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Last modified: Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gender differences, safety concerns, higher expectations for all

More than 80,000 high school students respond to Indiana University survey

AUG. 17, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Male students and many students of color need a more nurturing learning environment, according to the 2005 High School Survey of Student Engagement. The findings, released today (Aug. 17), indicate that academic expectations for all students should be more challenging and reveal that only 55 percent of the students in the nationwide survey feel safe at school.

"Efforts to improve high schools cannot succeed unless all students feel secure in the learning environment and are involved in activities that matter to their learning," said Martha McCarthy, Chancellor's Professor of Education and director of HSSSE.

Here are some key findings from the annual survey, which obtained responses from more than 80,000 high school students in 19 states:

  • Of the students who strongly disagreed that they were supported and respected by their teachers, 65 percent were boys. Compared to their male classmates, female students studied more and placed higher value on learning and school rewards. They were more likely to take pride in their school work, discuss assignments and ideas with others outside class, and interact with peers from different races, religions and political views.
  • Only 39 percent of African American female students reported feeling safe at school.
  • While 41 percent of the students felt their school placed much emphasis on athletic achievement, only 27 percent said the same for academic excellence.
  • More than 80 percent of respondents said they plan to continue their education after graduation, yet less than one-third of the students reported taking primarily college prep and honors courses or college courses for credit.
  • Eighty-one percent of students reported that they often or very often come to class with assignments completed, but a similar proportion (80 percent) said they spend three hours or less completing assigned readings each week. In short, students do not have to spend a lot of time to feel prepared for their classes.

"High schools need to expect more from students at every grade level if college aspirations of many students are to be realized," McCarthy said.

This is the second year the student engagement survey has asked about issues -- such as safety, study and work-for-pay habits, extracurricular participation, and even time spent talking on the telephone or playing video games -- which can support or hinder students' academic success and performance on achievement tests. Student engagement is important, McCarthy said, because students who are more involved in various aspects of high school get better grades, are more satisfied and are more likely to graduate.

Additional HSSSE 2005 results and information about how schools can participate in the survey in 2006 can be found at

Here is a sampling of other findings:

  • Students in the college prep track differed from other students in noteworthy ways, including studying more, participating more often in extracurricular activities, and expressing more positive attitudes toward their school.
  • Students spend more time every week socializing with friends and watching television than studying.
  • Latino, African American and American Indian students generally studied less, were less likely to be in college preparatory or honors classes, and participated less in extracurricular activities than their white and Asian classmates. Yet, African American students were more likely than other racial groups to say that they take pride in their school work and that they have worked harder at school than they expected.
  • More than one-third of all students had not written any papers more than five pages long during the school year.
  • Half of the respondents said they never or only sometimes received prompt feedback from teachers.
  • About one-fourth of high school seniors worked 20 or more hours per week.
  • Despite the public attention given to volunteerism, most students devoted very little time to volunteer activities, and 54 percent spent no time volunteering.
  • Though most students (93 percent) said they interacted at least occasionally with peers from a different race or ethnicity, 37 percent said the views of people of different races, religions, genders or political beliefs were frequently considered in class discussions or assignments.
  • Almost one-fourth said their school places very little emphasis on encouraging contact among students from different backgrounds and beliefs.

Each participating school receives a customized report comparing its results to those of all HSSSE participants nationally. Schools are able to use the results to make changes that can improve the learning environment for their students. One urban school, for example, responded to data indicating that most of its students were studying less than three hours a week by creating a homework hot-line staffed by honor students. Teachers in the same district also incorporated bonus questions based on homework assignments.

HSSSE staff do not release information to the public or media about individual schools. However, participating schools can choose to release their results.

To speak with McCarthy, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or