Grabbing Students: Researchers have identified easy ways to boost student success by increasing their engagement in learning. (By Lorna Collier)

For many young children, school is an exciting place. Kids in primary grades — especially kindergarteners, first- and second-graders — are eager to absorb new ideas and information.

But how many of them still feel that way about school by the time they've grown into teenagers?

Too often, research shows, children lose that spark. Their interest in learning and desire to perform wanes, so that by high school, a significant number have checked out, viewing school as boring and frustrating and the content as irrelevant to their lives — with worrisome implications for their futures.

"For kids, motivation and engagement in school on average drops as they move from the elementary school into the secondary school system," says Jacquelynne Eccles, PhD, an education professor at the University of California, Irvine. "You see it in attendance, in getting into trouble, in drop outs from high school and also in dropping out of college."

Consider:

  • Nearly half of students in Gallup's 2014 student poll report being either not engaged (28 percent) or actively disengaged (19 percent) in school. The poll of 825,000 fifth- through 12th-graders shows a clear slide as children progress in school.
  • A 2014 survey by Education Week found that only 40 percent of the teachers and administrators who participated believed that most of their students were highly engaged and motivated. Teachers and administrators from high-poverty schools reported much lower levels than those from more affluent schools.
  • Though the high school graduation rate in the United States has been increasing and reached 81 percent in 2012, a significant number of students still are not getting the diplomas considered essential for today's job market, which may put them at riskfor unemployment, substance abuse and incarceration. Graduation rates are lower for some regions and groups (African American children, for example, averaged 68 percent in 2012). As for college, about 40 percent of those seeking four-year degrees don't complete them — one of the worst rates in the developed world, according to an Education Trust report. Research finds student engagement plays a role in college success — or lack thereof (The Journal of Higher Education, 2008).
  • Achievement scores in math and science lag for U.S. students compared with those of other countries. U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 26th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading when compared with peers from 64 other countries in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment tests, for instance.

"I'm worried about our schools," says student engagement researcher Jennifer Fredricks, PhD, professor of human development at Connecticut College. "I think it's getting worse rather than better in a lot of indicators. Kids are bored and alienated. Too many are just going through the motions."

So what can be done? Educational psychologists have found that some relatively simple and low-cost actions can have powerful, positive effects on student engagement and motivation, turning disinterested students into eager learners.

Read the full article on the American Psychological Association website: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/06/grabbing-students.aspx