How to measure student engagement

student engaging with his laptop during class

Published: December 17th, 2020

While the education system undergoes the most significant transformation it has seen in decades

Measuring student engagement matters

While schools are committed to ensuring that their students are engaged and are focused on student engagement strategies, few schools have formalized an approach to measuring student engagement.

Measuring student engagement can be difficult as the dimensions are multifaceted and there is no “one size fits all” approach or measurement tool. On top of that, there is little agreement among scholars, schools, and educators on a concrete definition and effective measurement of engagement across schools. Hybrid and remote learning further complicates things, as little or no in-person interaction can make it difficult to measure engagement by way of observing students in a classroom environment with their peers.

Nevertheless, understanding student engagement, whether it be at the individual, classroom or district level, remains fundamentally important. Understanding how and when students are engaged is crucial to ensuring future and prolonged student success. Student engagement is predictive of key student success metrics including test scores, dropout rates, and graduation rates. Ongoing measurement of student engagement levels can reveal actionable insights to help schools meet these essential objectives.

The Encyclopedia of the Sciences and Learning reports that empirical insights on student engagement allows for teachers and schools to make room for conversions about quality, and provides a basis for exploring new teaching methods to better engage students.

There are many known benefits to measuring student engagement, and gathering this data is arguably more important now than ever. When teachers have a clear, metrics-based understanding of student engagement, they’re able to:

  • Adjust learning styles to best meet the needs of each student
  • Address low achievement
  • Address student boredom
  • Address emotional learning
  • Maintain lower dropout rates

The education system is currently undergoing the biggest transformation we’ve seen since the industrial revolution. In order to navigate this shifting landscape, it is critical that administrators and educators take the steps towards measuring engagement seriously and gather actionable insights into what’s working and what’s not. With this information in hand, educators will learn what is advancing student engagement versus what’s hindering it, and what steps they can take to best ensure student success.

Defining different levels of student engagement

Researchers look at student engagement from both a macro and a micro level, dependent upon the insights they’re trying to glean.

  • Macro-level engagement focuses on a student’s overall engagement with his or her school environments and typically does not consider a student’s level of engagement within specific courses or subject domains.
  • Micro-level engagement refers to a student’s engagement within one course or subject and how a student engages within the proximity of a specific class’s environment.

Schools benefit both from macro and micro-level measurements; by taking both macro and micro perspectives into account, educators can gain a more complete understanding of student engagement at their schools.

In the classroom, levels of student engagement can be broken down into three categories: passive, mixed, and highly engaged. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) offers the following definitions:

Passive: This is the lowest level of student engagement. Students are largely not engaged in the learning process and classrooms are almost exclusively teacher-centered.

Mixed: This level mixes teacher-centeredness with some level of student-centeredness. There are times when a classroom is highly teacher-centered, but also times when students are more engaged, through structured group activities, class discussions, or compare and contrast activities.

Highly engaged: This is the highest level of student engagement and teacher-centeredness is rare. Students are fully and more frequently engaged in the learning process. Teachers will frequently interact like coaches and support independent-collaborative learning.

With edtech tools like Promethean, student engagement can be measured at both the classroom level and the individual level. Data can also be shown as a whole group, broken down, or in a standalone mode. As students have different learning needs, teachers can customize their data reporting for the individual student to ensure they’re receiving the attention they need.

Student engagement can also be broken down into three dimensions. Teachers can operationalize the three dimensions of student engagement in remote or hybrid learning environments and use them to form a rubric for student engagement measurement. The three dimensions of student engagement are:

  • Behavioral engagement: Behavioral student engagement addresses how attentive and active students are in the classroom and with the school in general. For example, is the student involved in any extracurricular activities related to the school?
  • Cognitive engagement: This refers to how intrinsically motivated and invested students are in their own learning process and how much they regulate and take ownership of it.
  • Emotional engagement: This refers to students’ feelings about their teachers, classroom environments, and general school experience. It also includes a student’s sense of belonging and how valuable they view their work to be.

Tools and tactics

Measuring student engagement can be challenging. Fortunately, there are tools and tactics that schools can employ to help make this process a bit easier.

Classroom participation is one-way teachers can measure student engagement at the classroom-level. Depending on the school district and class, teachers may enforce a participation grade. While this measurement may be controversial, as students are earning points that aren’t directly tied to knowledge, participation grades can be an effective method for measuring student engagement. In order to score students on their engagement and participation, teachers must set a clear rubric in order to communicate expectations.

Formative assessments can offer a simple check of understanding such as asking students to give a thumbs up or down to signal their comprehension of a particular lesson. This can help teachers identify who is paying attention versus students who are distracted.

There are several other types of formative assessments:

  • Quizzes and polls: These are a great way to get a quick snapshot of what students are comprehending. There are software tools that make it easy to streamline this process, especially with students who are currently remote or hybrid learning.  Promethean offers eight different polls that push the envelope beyond multiple-choice and can measure how students engage with different types of material. These measurement tools arm students with a variety of ways to showcase what they know. To learn more about how to leverage Promethean tools to drive student success, visit Powering Student Engagement with Promethean.”
  • Student participation surveys: These surveys are directly administered to students with the goal of gathering insights about specific teachers and specific classrooms. The survey can ask questions about levels of engagement across various classes. These surveys are often complementary to other tools including classroom observations and measures of student achievement.
  • Entry and exit slips: Teachers can start or end class with a quick entry or exit slip that asks a comprehension question from class. Engaging with students in the few moments before or after class will give them the opportunity to write about course material that is fresh in their minds. Questions can focus on course material comprehension or general attitude towards class.
  • Interview assessments: A great way to get direct and insightful feedback from students is to speak with them informally one-on-one. These casual chats often make students feel at ease as teachers ask about their level of understanding of the current curriculum.
  • Misconceptions and errors: Exploring why a concept is incorrect or hard to grasp is a great way to have students understand their thinking around difficult materials. Teachers can conduct a misconception check where they outline common misunderstandings and ask their students to correct the mistake by applying prior knowledge.
  • Checklists: Teachers can give students a physical or digital checklist on a weekly basis and have them grade their own in-class participation. Students tend to be honest about their classroom participation, so this is an effective way to evaluate engagement. The method also helps remind students of the teacher’s expectations for the class, as it reminds them to actively consider how they’re being graded on participation.
  • Collecting student information: Teachers are able to evaluate student information such as the time it takes for a student to answer a question or solve a problem, this lends unique insights into the student’s thought process and how they’re problem-solving. Edtech software like Promethean ClassFlow can be used to collect this type of information.

Informally assessing comprehension is a way for teachers to assess comprehension by checking in regularly to see if students are engaged and understanding the material being taught. Check-ins can come in the form of speaking with students one-on-one or having an open discussion with the class about how they’re feeling. Teachers can adjust their instruction style to match students’ comprehension.

Implementing project-based learning and portfolio assignments such as creating videos, writing blogs, or participating in a virtual discussion panel are all ways teachers can measure levels of student engagement in alternative environments.

Engaging in plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles allows for teachers to measure student engagement by identifying a problem of practice and then testing and refining a strategy to address the problem. By observing and learning from the “study” portion of the cycle, teachers are able to address the problem head-on and set students up to be better engaged.

Measuring student engagement in context

When assessing student engagement, it’s important to look at the whole picture before drawing conclusions about what’s advancing engagement and what isn’t. Student and family wellness surveys allow educators to better understand barriers to student engagement and better direct resources and support. A wellness survey can include questions about a students’ physical and mental health as well as families’ access to food, housing, childcare, and transportation. Attending to a child’s basic needs including safety, health, and nutrition, along with their well-being is key to ensuring students have the tools they need and are ready to learn.

The importance of privacy

When collecting student data, safeguarding student privacy is critical. Schools must select edtech partners that prioritize student safety and take responsibility for how they collect and share student data. Important privacy measures to look for in an edtech partner include:

  • A commitment to not selling student information
  • Not deploying behaviorally targeted advertising
  • Using data for authorized education purposes only
  • No change in privacy policies without notice or choice
  • The enforcement of strict limits on data retention
  • Support parental access to, and correction of errors, in their children’s information
  • Transparency about the collection and use of data

As outlined in our Student Privacy Pledge, Promethean upholds each point outlined above to the most stringent standards.

Measure student engagement in your district 

The measurement of student engagement is critical for educators to best evaluate and understand how their students are absorbing learned materials. Measuring student engagement comes with its challenges, but by implementing a few of the above-outlined strategies, schools can take meaningful steps towards better understanding where they stand and can begin to chart a more informed path forward.

To learn more about what Promethean can do to help measure student engagement in your school, contact us to schedule a demo today.