May 23—The Medford School District now has some hard data to support the general assumption that remote learning took a heavy toll on students socially and emotionally as well as academically.
According to results from the district's annual YouthTruth Survey administered to students in grades 6-12 in February, local high schoolers rated in the fifth percentile in engagement, sixth percentile in college and career readiness and eighth percentile in belonging and peer collaboration when compared to other high schoolers across the nation.
There were some positives, such as increases in high schoolers' perceptions of culture and academic challenge and middle schoolers' ratings of relationships and culture, but overall the anonymous survey painted an unflattering picture of local students' views of what they're getting out of their schools.
"I think that a big factor is because they were in distance learning and they were unable to have that peer collaboration, that greatly impacted these results," said Jeanne Grazioli, MSD's executive director of teaching and learning, noting that the survey was administered before Medford schools fully reopened. "It also indicated how important it is to have students together in school in person, so it validated in-person learning versus at-home learning."
The district has used the survey from YouthTruth, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, every year since the 2017-18 school year to, according to the survey summary attached to a school board work session packet, "help us examine how well students are connecting to their school experience and building a vision for their future." Grazioli said the survey results are considered very reliable based on the fact that 80% of the targeted students participated.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students were surveyed in five areas: student engagement, academic rigor, relationships with teachers, relationships with peers and school culture. High school students were surveyed on each of those areas, too, plus one additional focus: college and career readiness.
"So we're able to look at this data and look at trends and then compare ourselves with national data and create action plans based on this information," Grazioli said. ""They give us so much. It's a dashboard, so we can dive in in so many ways with this data that we decided for the (May 6) board meeting ... to focus in on engagement, because that is a district goal — to increase student engagement using this measure."
Students were asked to rate their school experience in several categories on a five-point scale. One of the summary pages provided to the school board compared the district's high schoolers' percent of positive ratings — positive being greater than 3.5 out of 5 — to other national cohorts, including "typical YouthTruth school" and "typical small city school." Medford's positive rating percentage was lower than those by typical YouthTruth schools and typical small city schools in all nine categories measured. Those categories included: "I take pride in my school work;" "I try to do my best in school;" "I enjoy school most of the time;" and "I am getting a high quality education at this school."
Medford high schoolers' lowest rating (27%) was for the question, "I enjoy school most of the time." For comparison, positive ratings on that question among typical YouthTruth schools was 45%, and among typical small city schools 47%.
Some other takeaways were less bleak. Others, more so. Some questions and scores:
—A summary that measured the degree to which high school students feel they are being challenged by their coursework and teachers: 3.68 (27th percentile).
—A high school relationship summary that measured the degree to which students feel they receive support and personal attention from their teachers: 3.33 (30th percentile).
—A high school "belonging and peer collaboration" summary that measured the degree to which students feel welcome at their school and have collaborative relationships with their classmates: 3.02 (eighth percentile).
—A high school culture summary that measured the degree to which students believe that their school fosters a culture of respect and fairness: 3.34 (48th percentile).
—A high school college and career readiness summary that measured the degree to which students feel equipped to pursue college and careers: 2.86 (sixth percentile).
Local middle schoolers rated their school experience much higher in relationships (3.79, 79th percentile) and were also favorable in the culture summary (3.56, 64th percentile). The questions related to the culture portion of the survey centered on respect and fairness. For the most part, the YouthTruth results showed that local students feel they are being treated well by their teachers and peers.
"Because we were really being flexible with students, especially during this pandemic, that that fairness and respect for what students are going through probably played a roll in how they responded to these questions," Grazioli said.
Medford's college and career readiness survey results were the lowest ever recorded in the district after it scored 3.02 last year. The breakdown by school showed little difference between them: South Medford High came in at 2.83, North Medford 2.87 and Central Medford 3.06.
"This particular measure has been low and it's been one area that we are focused on through expansion of our Pathways (program), through better systems of communication between students and their counselors and their career path, and just really looking at us as a system and how we structure that," Grazioli said. "There area lot of improvements to be made and a lot of them are system-wide improvements that need to be made from middle school all the way through high school."
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or email@example.com.