Indiana University Study

Students are bored, many skip school, lack adult support

High school students from 110 schools in 26 states participate in Indiana University study

Today's high school students say they are bored in class because they dislike the material and experience inadequate teacher interaction, according to 2007 special report from Indiana University's High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE). The findings show that 2 out of 3 students are bored in class every day, while 17 percent say they are bored in every class.

More than 81,000 students responded to the annual survey. HSSSE was administered in 110 high schools, ranging in size from 37 students to nearly 4,000, across 26 states.

According to the director of the project, the reasons high school students claim they are bored are as significant as the boredom itself. Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, (photo above) HSSSE project director for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP), says the finding that nearly one in three respondents (31 percent) indicate he or she is bored in class due to "no interaction with teacher" is a troubling result. "So, in a high school class, 1 out of 3 students is sitting there and not interacting with a teacher on a daily basis and maybe never," Yazzie-Mintz said. "They're not having those interactions, which we know are critical for student engagement with learning and with high schools."

Other key findings include:

  • Fewer than 2 percent of students say they are never bored in high school.
  • Seventy-five percent of students surveyed say they are bored in class because the "material wasn't interesting."
  • Nearly 40 percent felt bored because the material "wasn't relevant to me."

The lack of adult support may play a role in student disengagement from school. While 78 percent of students responding agree or strongly agree that at least "one adult in my school cares about me and knows me well," 22 percent have considered dropping out of school. Of those students who have considered dropping out, approximately 1 out of 4 indicated that one reason for considering this option was that "no adults in the school cared about me."

"The fact that this many students have considered dropping out of high school makes the numbers of dropouts that we actually see across the country -- and the supposed dropout crisis that we have -- not surprising," Yazzie-Mintz said. "I think schools definitely need to pay a lot more attention to what students are thinking and the reasons why they're dropping out."

The high dropout rate may also be related to the finding that half of the respondents said they have skipped school; 34 percent said they had skipped school either "once or twice," and 16 percent said they had skipped "many times." Yazzie-Mintz said the students who skip school are far more likely to consider dropping out and that this finding may suggest a reason for schools to reconsider how they handle discipline for students who skip.

Among the other findings:

  • Seventy-three percent of students who have considered dropping out said it was because "I didn't like the school." Sixty-one percent said, "I didn't connect with the teachers," and 60 percent said, "I didn't see the value in the work I was being asked to do."
  • Students said activities in which they learn with and from peers are the most exciting and engaging. More than 80 percent of students responded that "discussion and debate" are "a little," "somewhat" or "very much" exciting and engaging, and more than 70 percent responded in this way about "group projects." By contrast, just 52 percent said teacher lecture is "a little," "somewhat" or "very much" exciting and engaging.

The survey found that students aren't spending a lot of time on homework. While 80 percent of the students surveyed indicated that doing written homework is either "somewhat important," "very important" or a "top priority," 43 percent reported spending an hour or less doing homework each week. Similarly, 73 percent of the students said reading and studying for class is either "somewhat important," "very important" or a "top priority." But 55 percent said they spent an hour or less per week reading and studying for class. Even though students may not be putting in time outside of class, they expect to earn a diploma and go to college. Nearly 3 out of 4 students responded that they go to school for that very reason.

Yazzie-Mintz said the lack of time spent studying and reading may work against such a goal. "Students may not be doing the work to get them to that point," he continues, "or they're not interested so much in what they're doing in their classes as they are in the goal of getting a diploma and going on to college."  Yazzie-Mintz said the size of the sample certainly means that high schools from across the country can draw some conclusions about their own student bodies. He added that as administrators consider restructuring programs, the HSSSE data can be especially valuable.  "I think this brings critical student voices into reform efforts and into conversations about the structures and practices of individual schools," Yazzie-Mintz said.