This blog has gained many new readers over the past year. Because of that, I thought it might be worth sharing a daily “A Look Back” where I share a best post from the past twelve years. You can also see all of my choices for “Best” posts here.

This post originally appeared in 2018:


Ah, “student engagement.”

A phrase used often (see The Best Posts & Articles On Student Engagement), but its meaning can vary.

A new study (it’s behind a paywall, but there are ways around it: see Unpaywall” Is New Tool For Accessing Research Papers For Free   and Sci-Hub Loses Domain Names, But Remains Resilient)suggests that “student engagement” increased for awhile following the passage of No Child Left Behind, but then went down.

In a moment, I’ll share what the authors suggest are some of the reasons behind those changes (they won’t be a surprise to educators).

What I find particularly intriguing, though, is how they arrived at their definition of “student engagement.”

They used an annual ten-question survey given to children by the Bureau of Labor Statistics called the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Children and Young Adults.

Specifically, ten questions in the CHILD SELF-ADMINISTERED SUPPLEMENT

Here are the questions:

Those seem like intriguing questions to me, and I can see how they might be good measures of “student engagement.”

What else would you include?

Now, getting back to the conclusions of the study and how it relates to NCLB. Here’s what they say:

One way to interpret this pattern is that some of the early changes made by the states—such as the development of streamlined standards, curricula, and tests; provision support to struggling schools; and increased instructional time (U.S. Department of Education, 2007; Wong et al., 2009)—may have boosted engagement but that over time, accountability pressure—specifically the increased likelihood of falling into sanctions—may have eroded school engagement, consistent with previously conducted local studies demonstrating decreases in student engagement in response to high-stakes testing and accountability systems (e.g., M. G. Jones et al., 2003; Nichols & Berliner, 2007)….Though the present study cannot identify what NCLB mechanisms likely impacted engagement, previous research suggests that narrowed curricula, reduced instructional support and autonomy in the classroom, and increased teacher anxiety (e.g., Au, 2007; Diamond, 2007; Finnegan & Gross, 2007; Griffith & Scharmann, 2008; Hannaway & Hamilton, 2008; McMurrer, 2007; Pederson, 2007; Plank & Condliffe, 2013) may have played a role.