NAIS Report on the 2020 Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement


The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) has partnered with the Center for Evaluation, Policy, & Research (CEPR) at Indiana University to offer the Middle Grades Survey of Student Engagement (MGSSE) to independent schools interested in measuring student engagement. The MGSSE (targeting grades five through nine) 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. MGSSE data can be invaluable to schools in this effort. Unlike knowledge-based assessment instruments, the MGSSE 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.

This report includes the results of the 2020 MGSSE. Note that only three schools administered the survey before mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools; unless otherwise noted, all results are aggregated regardless of test time and do not necessarily reflect students’ attitudes toward online learning.

In spring 2020, 1,227 students in 11 NAIS schools located in eight U.S. states completed the MGSSE. Participating schools ranged in size from 108 to 1,077 students. This report includes the aggregated results for all NAIS students participating in the MGSSE. 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.”
Responses are compared with the MGSSE results from 2019. Results from 2020 do not necessarily reflect student attitudes to school during online learning. Totals do not always equal 100% due to rounding.

This report was written by Margaret Anne Rowe, research analyst at NAIS.

Executive Summary

Dimension 1: Cognitive/Intellectual/Academic Engagement Items

Students taking the MGSSE were asked about the classroom activities and assignments that most interest or engage them. Group projects, discussions and debates, and projects and lessons that involve technology 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, 77% 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

Sixty-six percent of NAIS students reported that their school contributed very much to teaching them to treat people with respect. Thirty-five percent of NAIS students said that their school helped them learn about the lives of other people in their community.

While most of the NAIS students said that they go to school because of their friends or their parents (89% and 82%, respectively), 53% also said that they go to school because of their teachers. Fifty-two percent of students reported that they participated in four hours or more of school-sponsored activities per week.

Dimension 3: Emotional Engagement Items

Ninety-four percent of NAIS students are motivated by their desire to succeed in the world outside of school. The same percentage of students are motivated by the desire to get good grades, and an additional 79% are motivated by their desire to learn. Seventy-eight percent of NAIS students also said that they are motivated by teachers who encourage them.

One of the reasons parents send their children to independent schools is the focus on character development and values. Seventy-nine percent of NAIS students indicated that their schools contributed to the development of their personal beliefs and values.

Students who answered the MGSSE during school closure and online learning reported doing well at home. Ninety percent of them were comfortable completing their schoolwork online, and 89% knew what was expected of them. Eighty-five percent felt supported in their learning by their teachers. However, actually doing schoolwork was slightly more difficult with lower percentages saying that they could focus on their work (79%) and were motivated to do well on it (74%).

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