Dan McGowan

12 things Rhode Island students believe about their schools

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – From their views on teachers to the physical condition of their schools, nearly 87,000 Rhode Island public school students filled out a survey on a range of educational issues earlier this year.

So how did the students respond? Here’s an overview.

(Note: Eyewitness News reviewed the survey results for students in grades six through 12. Students in grades three through five as well as parents and teachers also filled out questionnaires. You can view all of the results here.)

37% of students don’t consider chronic absenteeism a big deal.
For all the emphasis Rhode Island schools have placed on attendance in recent years, more than one in three students said missing at least two days of school a month – that’s 18 days between September and May – will not impact their ability to graduate high school at all or will only matter a little bit. That equals 10% of the school year, which is how most states define chronic absenteeism. (During the 2016-17 school year, nearly 27,000 K-12 students missed at least that much time.) East Providence, one of the state’s leaders when it comes to addressing absenteeism, recently rolled out a program designed to alert parents when their children are missing too much school.

There are lots of reasons why students are absent from school.
The response to the chronic absenteeism/graduation question is one of the major concerns state education officials have flagged following the release of the survey, but it’s not easy to determine exactly why students feel the way they do about school. Engagement is a clear factor. So is health. (Remember, asthma is still considered a big problem in Rhode Island.) In a separate question about why students have been absent from school, 36% pointed to being sick; 13% said they didn’t get enough sleep; 7% said school is boring; and 7% said they had to take care of someone else.

Students are interested in jobs.
Considering the responses come from students in grades six through 12, it’s probably not a surprise that only 30% said they consider the things they learn in class to be quite interesting or extremely interesting. The results were similar when it comes to the percentage of students who are quite eager or extremely eager to participate in class. But a more telling question might be one that focused on the activities students are interested in. The two leading responses were field trips to work places to learn about different jobs and a job after school or in the summer. Students also appeared quite interested in courses that give college credit. On the other end, only 7% said they are interested in community service.

Students aren’t as upset with the physical condition of their school as you might think.
There is no question that Rhode Island schools need more than $2 billion in repairs and state leaders appear to be supportive of a bond question that would ask Rhode Island voters to approve $250 million in borrowing later this year. But when students were asked how pleasant or unpleasant the physical space at their school is, only 16% said somewhat unpleasant or very unpleasant. Meanwhile, 28% answered somewhat pleasant or very pleasant. A big chunk of students – 26% – said they consider the physical space neither pleasant nor unpleasant.

Stress remains a significant factor in the lives of students.
In school or out of school, more than 50% of students said stress interfered with their lives within the previous 30 days. When it comes to participating in school, 42% said stress interfered somewhat or quite a bit, while 13% said it interfered with school a tremendous amount. Outside of school, about 30% said stress got in the way of their activities quite a bit or a tremendous amount.

Most students aren’t regularly using ideas from school in daily life.
If you’re a parent who has ever said “I haven’t thought about algebra or biology since high school,” your kids have a similar view. Only 25% said they frequently or almost always use ideas from school in their daily lives. Meanwhile, 18% said they almost never use ideas from school. Of course, just like a parent’s view, this response is more reflective of a state of mind than reality. It’s difficult to imagine students never applying things they learn in school to the rest of their lives, but the response likely highlights engagement issues.

But students do know school is useful.
Only 5% of students said they don’t believe school will be at all useful to them in the future, but 65% said they believe it will be quite useful or extremely useful. Similarly, 86% said they consider it quite important or extremely important to do well in school.

Kids are slightly more worried about violence.
While parent concerns about violence in school skyrocketed by 22 percentage points this year, the percentage of students who regularly worry about violence at school increased from 33% in 2017 to 38% in 2018. It’s not exactly clear why the concern has grown, but state officials noted that the survey window included the shooting that killed 18 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Self-esteem issues are still a major challenge for students.
When asked how much they matter to others at school, only 37% of students responded that they matter quite a bit or a tremendous amount. Sadly, 12% of students said they believe they do not matter to others at all and 18% said they only matter a little bit. The results were slightly better for how much students feel they belong at their school, with 47% saying they believe they belong quite a bit or completely belong. About 10% said they do not belong at all. In another question, 31% acknowledged that within the last year, they have felt so sad or hopeless every day for two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities.

The majority of students plan to continue their education beyond high school.
More than half of the students – 60% – surveyed said are planning to attend at least a two-year college, with 39% saying they want to attend a four-year school, 19% saying they will attend a two-year or community college and 2% saying they intend to attend a trade school. Other responses included working full or part-time (26%) or entering the military (5%).

Students have mixed views of their teachers.
Start with the good news: 85% of students responded favorably to a question about whether there is at least one teacher or other adult that they can talk to if they have a problem and 69% said they believe they are respectful to their teachers. But it may be worth taking a closer look at some of the deeper questions. For example, only 37% said they believe their teachers would be concerned if they came to class upset. Also, 40% said their teachers’ expectations of them are somewhat high, slightly high or not high at all.

Bullying is more prevalent online than in person.
Only 21% of students acknowledged they had been bullied on school property within the previous 12 months, but 36% said it is somewhat likely, quite likely or extremely likely that they’ll be bullied online. Meanwhile 58% of students said it is only slightly difficult or not difficult at all to get help from an adult when they’re bullied.

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Dan McGowan (dmcgowan@wpri.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan


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