When students are “disappearing,” it’s time to look at how we measure engagement

When students are “disappearing,” it’s time to look at how we measure engagement

Across the country, half a year after school buildings first started closing, more and more students are being left behind. With the back-to-school rush mostly over and the new term underway, the focus is shifting from distance learning to the students who aren’t showing up for it: in Texas, in Michigan, in Maryland, and in districts nationwide.

Students who stop engaging online are often described as “missing,” “lost,” “vanished,” “invisible”—as though they’ve disappeared into thin air. In a distance learning environment, this might as well be the case. 

But it isn’t.

When it’s hard to know what “missing” really means 

From the outset of the pandemic, it’s been clear that students face a number of systemic realities that affect their ability to engage with distance learning. 

Despite efforts to close the digital divide, technological access and ability is still a major obstacle for students at home. Logistically, complicated schedules and last-minute changes make it difficult to keep up. And families are being stretched thinner than ever, even as their children’s learning requires increasingly more time and involvement.

Although teachers may have a sense of who’s falling behind, administrators don’t have the same visibility at the school and district levels—which makes it difficult to plan appropriate interventions, much less identify systemic issues.

In our survey of nearly 600 administrators this summer, student engagement came up again and again as the area they wish they had more data and insight into—from “attendance for distance learning” to “student engagement when parents feel unequipped or unable to facilitate virtual learning” to “better knowledge of who was engaged and who wasn’t” to, simply, “meaningful engagement of students.” 

A more accurate and equitable way to measure student engagement 

Like everyone else, we didn’t anticipate extended school closures on a massive scale. But the increased usage we’ve seen on Remind showed us that simple, accessible communication is more important than ever—not just for the teachers tasked with the challenge of connecting virtually with their students, but for administrators who need a way to track engagement across their organizations. 

The more we dug into our data, the clearer it became: Two-way communication is one of the most accurate and consistent metrics for student engagement

When a student sends or responds to a message, they demonstrate they’re engaged on two fronts: They’re reachable, or able to both send and receive communication, and responsive, or actively engaging with the school.

Measuring active engagement is important in another way, especially compared to metrics like time logged on, time on camera, or even behavior on camera. These proxies for student engagement aren’t just inequitable; they’re often imprecise, too. Students might not be logging on for any number of reasons beyond their control, and any adult who’s had to transition to working remotely can confirm that appearing on camera doesn’t guarantee meaningful engagement.

To make sure we were on the right track, we looked at our engagement metrics at the state and national levels. This is what we found.

Our engagement data put numbers against the story we’re hearing from educators in Dallas, Detroit, Baltimore, and so many other parts of the country. If we count engagement as sending or responding to any Remind message, over 1.3 million students stopped engaging at the end of the 2019-2020 school year. And, as jarringly, this drop is consistent nationwide: Individual states saw engagement declines ranging from 8% to 17% of their student populations.

Getting better visibility into engagement, one week at a time

Over the past few months, we’ve been hard at work on a way to get schools and districts the data they need to support students at risk of being left behind.

With the Remind plan, schools and districts have always had access to aggregated statistics that show organization-wide engagement over time. (If stats are available for your organization, you can preview them here.) But for effective outreach and intervention, administrators need a clearer line of sight into who’s engaging and who’s stopped.

Later this month, we’ll be introducing engagement reports to help provide better visibility and insight into engagement. With weekly updates about how students, parents, and teachers are engaging on Remind—including who’s sending messages, who isn’t, and who’s no longer reachable—administrators can track and measure engagement across their organizations and get actionable data for individual support. We’ll have more details about these soon.

We also know that engagement reports and data are only as good as actual engagement on Remind, from setting up text notifications to establishing expectations. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing more tips for schools and districts about supporting two-way communication at every level, including getting acquainted with engagement reports, consolidating communication, and understanding and using Remind as an administrator.

This year, it’s going to be more challenging than ever to help students stay motivated and engaged. But it isn’t impossible, and students who stop logging in aren’t out of reach forever. Engagement can start with a single message from a student or a parent checking in, responding to a question, or asking their own—anything that lets you know that they’re still there.

 

Engagement reports will be part of the Remind plan for schools and districts. Learn more about other features here.