Get a read on student engagement with these 21 measures (11 of them are free)

iStock_000016075406XSmallStudent engagement is one of the most positive signs that students are on the path to learning and achievement.  The more educators appreciate the role that student engagement plays in learning, the greater their interest in measuring  it.

A new report by the Regional Educational Laboratory provides educators who want to monitor student engagement with a consumer’s guide to 21 instruments.  The guide profiles each of these instruments, giving information about the targeted population, the method of administration and about specifically what is being measured.

The instruments rely on student self-reporting (14), on teacher reports (3) and on classroom or student observation (4). Many of the instruments are targeted at students in the upper elementary grades and above because of the decline in motivation and engagement in this age group.

Eleven measures are available free online, in print or from developers. The instruments have several different purposes beyond assessing engagement including evaluating school reform interventions, diagnosing and monitoring students who are at risk of disengagement as well as conducting assessments of students’ needs.

Early research

In early research, student engagement was initially defined by behaviors such as participation and time on task in class. Gradually, emotions such as  enjoyment, a sense of belonging and attachment have been incorporated into the concept of engagement.

More recently, cognitive aspects such as student investment in learning, perseverance in the face of  challenges and use of deep rather than superficial strategies also have been incorporated into this concept.

Now, many educators view engagement as having all 3 dimensions, behavioral, emotional and cognitive. Five of the engagement measures assess 3 dimensions, 5 assess 2 dimensions and 4 assess one dimension.  The 3 dimensions have the following important features:

  • Behavioral engagement draws on the idea   of participation, which includes involvement in academic, social or extracurricular  activities.
  • Emotional engagement refers to the positive (and negative) reactions to teachers,   classmates, academics and school.
  • Cognitive engagement is defined as stu-  dent’s level of investment in learning.  It   includes being purposeful in the approach  to school tasks and exerting the effort necessary effort to master difficult skills and   understand complex ideas.

Some studies have estimated that as many as 40-60% of youth are disengaged. Engagement declines as students progress through the upper elementary grades and middle school, reaching the lowest level in high school, the researchers write.

One recommendation for many of the student self-reporting instruments is that another adult other than the teacher administer the questionnaire to encourage students to be more honest in their reporting.  Another is that the items should be read aloud to students to avoid misreading or misinterpretation.

For instruments that rely on teacher ratings or reporting, the recommendation is that teachers should have adequate experience with their students before completing the items.

The instruments are composed of 4-121 items  and take from a few minutes to 2 hours to complete.  Some engagement items are a subset of a longer instrument that measures other constructs.

“Measuring student engagement in upper elementary through high school: a description of 21 instruments,” Issues & Answers, Regional Educational Laboratory, January 2011, No. 098.

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