Use, Capture, and Value of Student Voice in Schools

Findings from the 2021 Learn Together Surveys

by Maria-Paz Fernandez, Sy Doan, Elizabeth D. Steiner

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Research Questions

  1. How are schools capturing student voice and to what extent is student input representative of students in the school?
  2. To what extent do teachers and school leaders use student voice in their classroom and school decisionmaking?
  3. Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the level of emphasis that schools place on capturing student voice?
  4. To what extent do teachers and school leaders value student voice and generate opportunities for students to influence what happens in classrooms and schools?

Providing an avenue for students to share their perceptions and opinions of their learning environment with educators makes the process of teaching and learning more reciprocal and can address issues of inequity by giving students the opportunity to participate in and influence decisions that will affect their lives and those of their peers. When asked to voice their perceptions, students can provide insights into information and relationships that adults in the school do not have access to, while also generating higher levels of student engagement in learning.

In this Data Note, the authors use nationally representative survey response data from the 2021 Learn Together Surveys (LTS) to examine the extent to which secondary teachers and school leaders take student voice into account in their practices at the classroom and school levels. The 2021 LTS introduced the topic of student voice and asked about the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on teachers' and school leaders' consideration of student voice to inform their practices.

Drawing on responses from 3,605 6th- to 12th-grade teachers and 1,686 middle and high school leaders, the authors compare teacher and school leader responses across various school-level characteristics, including instructional mode during the 2020–2021 school year (in-person, hybrid, or remote), school free and reduced-price lunch enrollment, and race/ethnicity of the student population. The authors conclude with implications and policy recommendations based on their analysis.

Key Findings

  • Nearly all secondary school leaders captured student voice and used multiple strategies, especially informal conversations and student surveys, to do so.
  • Student voice informed instructional and social and emotional learning approaches.
  • Leaders of secondary schools that provided in-person instruction during the 2020–2021 school year reported placing greater emphasis on capturing student voice than did leaders whose schools provided fully remote or hybrid instruction.
  • Secondary teachers and school leaders reported that student voice has high value in their schools, but low influence.

Recommendations

  • Encourage secondary school leaders to expand the use of representative and engaging methods to capture student voice.
  • Increase school- and classroom-level efforts to incorporate student voice into decisionmaking.
  • Encourage emphasis on capturing student voice as remote learning increases.
  • Focus on increasing the influence of student voice, especially in secondary schools with high free and reduced-price lunch enrollment.

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The research described in this report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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