Montgomery County (MD) Measuring ‘Hope’ to Help Improve Academic Success

Montgomery County Public Schools, MD, will greet its students this fall with a survey that asks them questions, not about academics, but about “hope, engagement and well-being.” MCPS is teaming up with Gallup, the polling giant, to conduct this survey, which they also conducted last year. For three years of work that includes working with teachers and staff to understand the survey results, MCPS is paying Gallup a whopping $900,000 in hopes that students in schools that put emphasis on their social and emotional lives also perform better academically, as some research studies have shown.

While some, like rising senior Andrew Zhang at Richard Montgomery High School, question whether a survey can truly measure such subjective measures as “hope, engagement and well-being,” MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr is enthusiastic about the plan: “We’re taking a holistic view of what school performance looks like. Rather than just saying it’s just about student achievement results, we’re saying it is also about how you get student achievement results.”

Questions will include whether students “energetically pursue goals,” “laughed or smiled a lot yesterday,” “have a best friend at school,” and “[have] an adult in my life who cares about my future.”

MCPS is not alone in this holistic focus on students. “In Minnesota, the nonprofit EdVisions Schools has been administering a ‘Hope Survey’ since 2007. Research on affiliated schools’ practices has found that increasing hope among students has resulted in gains in math and other test scores. In Texas, staff coaches are training teachers in Austin to help students ‘manage emotions and behaviors to achieve goals’ in an effort to nurture ‘the whole child.’ And in Illinois, state legislators passed the Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003, requiring schools to teach students how to better manage their emotions and behavior.”

Most of the concern with the study centers on whether the school system will continue to emphasize academics. The fact that MCPS is one of the largest school districts in the nation with the highest student achievement, there is little doubt that this will continue to be the case.

MCPS superintendent, who has spoken out in the past against imminent standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, concludes, “I want my kids to be straight-A students, but if I had to choose, and I don’t want to, I would rather have my kids be average students and be great people than straight-A students and average people.”

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