NAIS Report on the 2020 High School Survey of Student Engagement


The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) partnered with the Center for Evaluation, Policy, & Research (CEPR) at Indiana University to offer the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) to independent schools interested in measuring student engagement. The HSSSE, targeting grades 9 through 12, is a student-focused survey that investigates the attitudes, perceptions, and beliefs of students about their schoolwork, the school learning environment, and their interactions with the school community.

Student engagement is increasingly viewed as one of the keys to building a safe, positive, and creative school climate and culture that increase student achievement and decrease student boredom, alienation, and dropout rates. HSSSE data can be invaluable to schools in this effort. Unlike knowledge-based assessment instruments, the HSSSE provides student engagement data that showcase how schools instill 21st century skills in their students while providing a caring and safe environment that nurtures the whole child.

In spring 2020, 3,236 students in 17 NAIS schools located in 11 U.S. states completed the HSSSE. Participating schools ranged in size from 22 to 1,077 students. This report includes the aggregated results for all NAIS students participating in the HSSSE. The information is broken down by the three dimensions of engagement:
  • Cognitive/intellectual/academic engagement: Describes students’ efforts, investment, and strategies for learning—the work students do and the ways students go about their work. This dimension can be described as “engagement of the mind.”
  • Social/behavioral/participatory engagement: Captures students’ actions in social, extracurricular, and nonacademic school activities, including interactions with other students—the ways in which students interact within the school community. This dimension can be thought of as “engagement in the life of the school.”
  • Emotional engagement: Emphasizes students’ feelings of connection (or disconnection) to their school—how students feel about where they are in school, the ways and workings of the school, and the people within their school. This dimension can be described as “engagement of the heart.”
This report was written by Margaret Anne Rowe, research analyst at NAIS.

Executive Summary

Dimension 1: Cognitive/Intellectual/Academic Engagement Items

Students taking the HSSSE were asked about the classroom activities and assignments that most interest or engage them. Discussions and debates, projects and lessons that involve technology, and group projects were the most engaging activities for NAIS students.

Students are confident that they have the skills and abilities to complete their schoolwork. They enjoy being creative in school and recognize that they put a lot of effort into the work they do at school. NAIS students indicated that their schoolwork stimulates their curiosity to learn other things and that they enjoy discussions where answers are not clear and assignments that demand a lot of mental effort. Furthermore, 65% of NAIS students agreed with the statement, “I go to school because of what I learn in classes.”

Dimension 2: Social/Behavioral/Participatory Engagement Items

Half of NAIS high school students reported that their school contributed very much to teaching them to treat people with respect. Twenty-five percent said that their school helped them learn about their community’s lives outside the school.

While most of the NAIS students said that they go to school because of their friends or their parents (85% and 79%, respectively), 57% also said that they go to school because of their teachers. Fifty-four percent of students reported that they participated in four hours or more of school-sponsored activities per week.

Dimension 3: Emotional Engagement Items

Ninety percent of NAIS students felt good about being in their high school; another 72% reported that they are an important part of their school community. Sixty percent of NAIS students said that they go to school because they enjoy being in school, while 74% indicated that, given the choice, they would choose their current school.

Students who took the HSSSE after school shutdowns during the pandemic were asked about their experiences with online learning. Though 84% of NAIS students felt supported in their learning by their teachers, only 54% said they could focus on their schoolwork, and just 44% felt motivated to do well on it.

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