Preparing students for life after high school is extremely important work, but how do schools know if the work they are doing is having the desired results? An incredible amount of time and energy is invested in the collection and analysis of assessment results and graduation/completion data, but schools often neglect to ask students how they value the education they have received. Do students believe the classes, opportunities, and support they received during high school helped them develop the skills and abilities they need to be successful in the next phase of their lives?

Value of Education Rated Low

Many schools – public, private, urban, rural, and suburban – voluntarily administer surveys, such as the AdvancED High School Exit Survey, to gather student perspectives to help answer these types of questions. An analysis of nearly 5,500 responses from AdvancED High School Exit Survey administrations produced consistently alarming results.

Across every student population and school demographic, students rated the overall value of their education, skills developed, and level of support received in high school very low.

When asked to rate the overall value of their high school education on a scale from excellent to very poor, over 76 percent of the 5,500 students surveyed responded with a poor or very poor rating. Disaggregation of the data based on gender, ethnicity, grades received in school (A’s , B’s, etc), and participation in after-school activities produced the same results. While it is true that ratings were low across all student populations and school demographics, it is interesting to note that students who followed a technical or vocational program had a higher perceived value of their education than those in a general education or college preparation program. Fourteen percent of technical/vocational education students rated the overall value of their education as excellent or good, while only 4.7 percent in general education and 3.6 percent in college preparation programs had a good or excellent rating.

Students not Confident in Preparation

Getting right at the heart of student preparedness, the survey also asked students to rate the extent to which their school prepared them for the future. An overwhelming percentage of students (greater than 60 percent) believe that their high school did a poor or very poor job of providing challenging curriculum and classes that would prepare them for the future. The vast majority of these same students feel that their school did not adequately prepare them for education or employment    after high school. Over 3,400 of the 5,500 students surveyed (62 percent) felt that their school did a less than fair job of preparing them for education after high school, and over 50 percent felt their school did a poor or very poor job of preparing them for employment.

Many schools claim to focus on 21st Century Skills development, but how does this translate for students? When students were asked to rate the level of ability they developed during high school in areas such as problem solving, good decision making, time management, career awareness, teamwork, and employability, over 60 percent of the students responded with a poor or very poor rating.

Where is the breakdown in communication? What can we learn from this type of student perception data?

The purpose of this article is not to disparage the work of schools or disregard the hard work that happens every day in educational institutions around the world, but instead to emphasize the importance of gathering student perceptions and using student feedback to improve education quality. Perception shapes reality. If students don’t feel that schools are doing a good job of preparing them for the future, we should listen. Students are in a great position to help design an education system that will not only prepare students for the future, but open their eyes to future possibilities.

Heather Kinsey is Vice President of Development at AdvancED. Kinsey is responsible for the interface between researchers and the extensive network of databases maintained by AdvancED’s Information Technology division. Kinsey also directs the Innovation Division’s survey unit and currently is involved in redesigning and redeploying those products to become more flexible and user-friendly.