When measuring Meaningful Student Involvement activities, its vital to examine the activities that make up what’s happening. Each activity can include many different parts. Here, SoundOut examines the culture of activities, the actions involved, the barriers in activities and the evaluation of activities.
Measuring the Culture of Meaningful Student Involvement
When assessing Meaningful Student Involvement its important to consider the effects on school culture. Engaging students as partners in school change should including creating the culture to support Meaningful Student Involvement for all students in all schools, all the time.
This culture should be reflected in a variety of ways. All students should feel safe to be meaningfully involved, which truly focuses on whether their involvement is equitable or not. Students should be identify in their own language and without coaching from adults how they are meaningfully involved, how they’re respected, and how they’re responded to by adults.
Involving students meaningfully should transform the attitudes and systems that underlay the culture of individual classrooms, whole school buildings and eventually, the entirety of the education system. This looks like Student/Adult Partnerships that are mutually supportive and accountable for both students and adults, whether in the classroom, board room, hallways, or legislatures. Meaningful Student Involvement changes can be apparent in school when students and adults address personal challenges and organizational barriers together, leading to healthier, more school democratic cultures where everyone can be engaged as partners.
Other ways school culture reflects Meaningful Student Involvement include, but are not limited to, educators maintaining a substantial focus on student involvement even when students appear to be disinterested; gradual or radical shifts in student-adult relationships to reflect higher perceptions of students and the elements of Student/Adult Partnerships introduced earlier in this book; and visually observable aspects, including relaxed conversations among students and adults about education and school improvement; verbal and written reflection shared among students and adults; and rituals reflecting Meaningful Student Involvement, including committee participation, Non-Violent Communication between students and adults; and student orientation programs led by students and adults.
When schools continually demonstrate meaningful involvement in research, planning, teaching, evaluation, decision-making and advocacy, their culture demonstrates what we are looking for. There will be regular and ongoing expectations for all members of the school community to hold meaningful involvement tantamount for all learners, as well as a commitment by building leadership to professional development and training opportunities that foster Student/Adult Partnerships. Additionally, the culture of education reflects Meaningful Student Involvement when discriminatory language against students is not tolerated; clear expectations and policies reflect a commitment to Student/Adult Partnerships, and a total commitment to the Cycle of Engagement is apparent throughout learning, teaching and leadership.
Measuring Action in Meaningful Student Involvement
Taking action is the crux of Meaningful Student Involvement. All action should start by students working with adults to determine what constitutes meaningful student involvement. Conscientious steps should be taken to ensure that student involvement is meaningful according to that initial work. Students should understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement in general, as well as the particular activity at hand, and they should know who made the decisions about Meaningful Student Involvement and why they were made initially.
Throughout the course of action the process and are the results of Meaningful Student Involvement should be recorded. That recording should be reported in writing and distributed to both students and adults. The process should include a variety of steps, including having students work with adults to identify school issues, challenges, or problems, allowing students to identify their own possible solutions or goals in their school, and engaging students in working with adults to identify possible solutions or goals in their school.
Students should feel fully informed about issues that matter to them, and learn about issues that matter to the whole school they’re in, the larger community, where they live, and the entire nation. Project ideas and activities should be co-initiated by students and adults, as well.
There is a large role for students in formal school improvement. They can be involved in identifying the problems, challenges, or needs to be addressed by school improvement, as well as formulating the problem and analyzing the situation. They can co-create school improvement policy, participate in adopting school improvement policy, and be meaningfully involved in approving programs, services, and activities to implement school improvement. Students can be meaningfully involved in teaching adults about school improvement, monitoring school improvement, and evaluating the impact of school improvement. Rather than act in isolation, students should be meaningfully involved with adults and other community members in school improvement as well. (Counts, 1978)
The best action for Meaningful Student Involvement should always end in reflection. Afterwards, students who are involved should receive a written or verbal report on the outcomes of Meaningful Student Involvement.
Measuring Barriers in Meaningful Student Involvement
An essential measure for Meaningful Student Involvement is to deliberately acknowledge and conscientiously address the barriers to engaging students as partners throughout education. The first step in addressing barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement is to acknowledge they exist, and to name them as best as possible.
False and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate should be deliberately addressed by students and/or adults throughout all activities. All adults in the school should be clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement. An informal assessment should be made of whether adults throughout the learning environment, and a determination should be made whether adults provide good examples of Meaningful Student Involvement. Students’ experience and inexperience addressed with Meaningful Student Involvement should be determined as well.
Barriers can be addressed when students and adults identify and address negative experiences students and adults have had with student involvement, and steps should be taken to reduce the resistance from adults and students. In some circumstances, this can mean adding an equal or greater number of students to boards, committees and other decision-making activities throughout the education system that previously only engaged a few students. However, more than likely it means creating new avenues for student voice in places where only adults made decisions before. This can happen by creating student roles for every student in decision-making affecting individual students; it can also happen by creating roles for students in activities where adults made decisions for large groups of students.
When adults throughout education actively educate students about the education system, including focusing on specific functions and outcomes, Meaningful Student Involvement can happen and the barrier of obfuscation can be overcome. A climate should be fostered in every opportunity for student voice where students feel comfortable engaging in learning, whether through question-asking, interacting, or otherwise engaging in the topic at hand. Deliberate steps should be made to foster this climate, including acknowledgment of student schedules, learning styles, developmental abilities, and other relevant actions. If activities happen outside school and school time, planning should consider whether the location and times of meetings are convenient to students; determining if the times and dates of meetings are convenient for students; choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation; and other initiatives or changes going on in classes, local schools, districts, or state programs that will complement the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement.
A major barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement is student credibility. If representative participation is required in an activity, steps should be taken to ensure student representatives are chosen so that they are credible among the students they are supposed to represent. Given the diversity of every school, this should include accounting for all sorts of student cultures, attitudes, beliefs and ideas. Adults should check and double check when they think a student is credible by working with students as partners to ensure credibility. Sometimes, it is appropriate to select a high achieving, popular student to represent their peers in a student involvement activity. However, there are other times when it is not meaningful for students or adults to have that same student representing students who may be low performing or acting in ways that are not appropriate for school.
Many adults are addressing student voice as giving students a say in what, when, where, how and why they learn. This is a misunderstanding of student voice and actually serves as a barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement. It positions adults as the arbitrators of student voice, placing the responsibility for students’ expressions about education on the shoulders of educators. In reality, students are constantly expressing themselves; the question is whether or not adults are willing to listen and act upon what students have to say. Listening to students’ needs, interests and concerns has had a big impact on school life and classroom practice; engaging students as partners in learning throughout the educational process and the entirety of the education system has an even larger impact. Overcoming the barriers presented by students, adults and schools is a key to moving in that direction.
Measuring Evaluation in Schools
Assessing outcomes should always be a part of Meaningful Student Involvement opportunities. Every opportunity focused on Meaningful Student Involvement should opportunities for formal and informal feedback from students. The events, opportunities, and numbers of students measured with regard to all the factors affected by the opportunity, as well as the levels, motivations, and impacts of students and adults who are involved or affected. The quantitative effects of Meaningful Student Involvement can be measured, monitored, and reported, including grades, attendance records, dropout rates, the number of student participants in a given activity, and other numerical effects of Meaningful Student Involvement.
Meaningful Student Involvement affects many people. Students other than those who are directly involved can provide substantial input when given the opportunity to be involved as independent evaluators in assessing action. Formal assessments of Meaningful Student Involvement completed by students and adults, and the summative impacts of Meaningful Student Involvement should be identified. The varying short- and long-term impacts may include short and long-term effects and impacts. The effects of Meaningful Student Involvement on classrooms may include the creation of new curriculum or programs, widespread engagement of student-led evaluation and all types of meaningful involvement, and more. All of these should be assessed for their presence, purpose and power.
Meaningful Student Involvement can impact school administration through the development of administrative support and structures. Professional development for school staff focused on Meaningful Student Involvement, including teachers and others, can be made mandatory or more made more available. Materials on engaging students as partners can be made widely available, too. One of the most effective measures of meaningfulness may be the amount of more appropriate, student-friendly policies, rules, or guidelines adapted in order to promote, ensure, and sustain Meaningful Student Involvement. Another structural development is the creation of more and more meaningful opportunities for all students to become involved. More accessible or convenient opportunities for students are part of that approach.
Developing this infrastructure requires new approaches to engaging students as partners. This can happen through the intentional recruitment and preparation of nontraditional and new student leaders. It can also happen with the intentional development of new social norms among the student body, between students and adults, and throughout the entirety of the school community. Meaningful Student Involvement should be assessed for those new approaches to relationships among students, between students and adults, and ultimately, between students, adults, and the education system as a whole.
The desires, dreams, and possibilities students envision for school should be acknowledged, documented and assessed throughout the opportunities, particularly those of students who are not traditionally engaged in conversations about school improvement. Reports focused on Meaningful Student Involvement should be created with multiple audiences in mind, including politicians, policy-makers and other officials, as well as educators, administrators and students themselves. Additionally, significant time should be spent reflecting on who is involved in opportunities. This means students and adults should work together to examine which students participate; why they were involved; what percentage of students in a school were involved, and so forth.
Engaging students themselves in reflecting on the nature of current student involvement in your school, as well as plans or implementations focused on Meaningful Student Involvement. These reflections should also be shared with everyone possible throughout the education system. Their reflections can including benefits and limitations of Meaningful Student Involvement in school planning, education research, formal teaching and capacity development, learning evaluation, systemic decision-making, and education advocacy. Exploring which opportunities students are meaningfully involved in and why those opportunities happen is essential to evaluating and assessing Meaningful Student Involvement. Students should facilitate capacity building activities for students and adults to increase their ability to become meaningfully involved.
Assessments should be conducted by adults, too. They should have opportunities to continuously increase their capacity to meaningfully involve students, and identify limitations and possibilities of Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education. There should also be opportunities for everyone, including students and adults, to assess what the levels of commitment to Meaningful Student Involvement are from various parties throughout the education system. This means that all sorts of students, administrators, teachers, support staff, parents, and other community members should be asked whether they are committed to Student/Adult Partnerships and Meaningful Student Involvement.
Looking across your current location in education, a specific evaluation should determine what opportunities for focused student voice, substantive student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement currently exist. Examining your policies, you should determine whether your classroom, individual school, local district, or state education agency has policies that can ensure or deter sustainable opportunities that meaningfully involve students throughout education. That same examination should determine whether your school or organization can compensate for the budget considerations affecting Meaningful Student Involvement. Ultimately, you should determine how far away your location is from one hundred percent Meaningful Student Involvement. Identify how many students experience meaningful opportunities and how frequently they experience them. When you have determined this percentage, you will know exactly how far you have to go.
There are many ways you can evaluate whether Meaningful Student Involvement exists and is recognizable. Simply allowing students to be involved is one way. Another way to determine existence is to examine classroom learning and determine what extent Meaningful Student Involvement is present in teaching activities. Acknowledging the classroom learning that happens through Meaningful Student Involvement should happen through students receiving credit. Other ways to identify meaningful involvement is by determining whether fiscal rewards, including stipends, scholarships, or salaries, are given to students who are involved, as well.
The quality of student involvement helps determine the meaningfulness. Sometimes, that quality is ensured through policy-making. When appropriate, schools should provide equitable or equal opportunities for students and adults to serve by establishing and enforcing substantive and appropriate terms of office, voting rights, or positions. Contingency plans should be developed to replace students whose terms, service, or job end early, and a conflict of interest policy for appropriate occasions. Policies that formally allow and encourage students to be involved in multiple activities without penalizing them are often necessary, as well as policies that give students appropriate access to adult allies who are involved including teachers, parents and support staff. Students who are involved should be allowed uninhibited access to information sources that allow them to be meaningfully involved, whether through the Internet, adults who are involved in decision-making, records, etc. Schools should also provide opportunities for students to continuously increase their capacity to be meaningfully involved through capacity building activities of all sorts.
One of the key measurements for Meaningful Student Involvement is that every student in every school has opportunities to systematically, intentionally learn about the structures, purposes, actions and outcomes of education. School should be assessed for whether they afford opportunities for students to expand their involvement in subsequent grade levels. Their learning about this should happen in a constructivist fashion, acknowledging what they know regardless of their grade level and expanding upon it through teaching, action, reflection and critical examination.
Students should be allowed and encouraged to address schoolwide issues, not only those that affect students. The language and concepts used in Meaningful Student Involvement opportunities should be adjusted or explained to students in order to create plainly accessible ideas for everyone involved. Students should also have opportunities to learn about different aspects of the activities they are involved in, whatever it may be focused on. If students are partnering with adults to create a classroom curriculum focused on local history, they should have opportunities to learn about curriculum design and delivery, as well as local history. This is true for any aspect of planning, research, teaching, evaluating, decision-making, or advocacy.
Measuring Infusion in Schools
A large measurement within Meaningful Student Involvement is the extent to which every student experiences Student/Adult Partnerships. While there is a starting point for all action, it is important for schools, agencies, or education programs to have a strategic plan for expanding Meaningful Student Involvement. Ultimately, every student in every school can experience meaningfulness, whether in their individual classroom experience or collective school wide experience, whether in special and specific district or state education agency opportunities, or in broad student organizing for education improvement. All of this should be assessed in order to determine the efficacy of approaches.
The amount of authority between students and adults should be measured. In almost every circumstance throughout schools, students are held accountable by adults. They are held accountable for their academic achievement, classroom performance, attendance, behavior, attitudes and increasingly, opportunities outside of school. However, adults are not held similarly accountable to students. In Meaningful Student Involvement, mutual accountability is essential for partnerships. Similarly, students should experience appropriately and equitably distributed amounts of authority. Considering the specific conditions for Meaningful Student Involvement when determining how much authority students has is important; however, that should not be the determining factor for whether students should have authority. Instead, every situation should be seen objectively for its potential, purpose, and outcomes. Authority—the ability to author one’s story—is something that should be enculturated and codified throughout education for every participant whether students or adults. That authority should be present throughout learning, teaching and leadership as exemplified by Meaningful Student Involvement in education planning, research, teaching, evaluation, decision-making, and advocacy.
Parents should learn about Meaningful Student Involvement too. Their role in supporting, encouraging, sustaining and expanding Student/Adult Partnerships should not be under-acknowledged. In addition to teaching parents, they should also have opportunities to become engaged partners as well.
Opportunities should be assessed for whether they obligate or otherwise compel students and adults to be meaningfully involved. This helps determine amounts of authenticity and generosity, as well as the amounts of time required to build ownership and investment by the participants in Meaningful Student Involvement. These obligations can happen through mandate by education leaders, grant requirements, or agreements between students and adults. They can happen through teacher mandate over students. When policy is set in place, rules are made, or other formalized, codified decisions are written, they can be compulsory as well.
Meaningful Student Involvement necessitates continuous capacity building for students and adults. This may happen through knowledge-sharing and skill building, as well as other means. It may mean providing opportunities for students and adults to co-learn about skills such as communication, time management, project planning, meeting facilitation, budget management, and other skills. It could also mean that all partners learn about school improvement; equity and diversity in education; curricular approaches; leadership issues in education, and other issues. These continuous capacity building opportunities could also focus on topics that are core to Meaningful Student Involvement, including student/adult relationship building; inquiry-based learning; service learning; project planning; curriculum development; teaching skills; evaluation techniques; decision-making methods; and advocacy skills.