Utilizing Data to Drive Student Growth

Thursday, December 10, 2015

One of the guiding principles behind the Gateway to College model is that when disconnected or out-of-school youth take courses on a college campus they are more likely to earn a high school diploma than if they take similar courses in traditional high school settings. The premise is fairly simple – being a member of a learning community that offers attentive care, support and motivation building, students have the capability to be academically successful. Thus, on their path to a high school diploma, our students receive significant support through meaningful interactions with their peers, faculty and Gateway to College mentors. These relationships and the students’ individual efforts are the strongest contributing factors to their success; and it is a gratifying task for us to share those stories of success. One way to capture those accomplishments is through extensive data collection and analysis.

As researchers, we value data that can paint the most accurate and comprehensive picture of student growth at Gateway to College programs. Hence, our programs do a rigorous job of collecting course-level data for students, along with responses for surveys administered at the beginning and end of a school term. In efforts to measure student success, the field often relies too strongly and exclusively on students’ academic achievements measured through grades and credits earned. This approach overlooks the more social, psychological and emotional aspects of student growth measured through peer and faculty relationships, and student engagement outside the classroom. This is not to say that students’ academic progress and their social-emotional development are independent of each other. In fact, several studies have shown evidence of situational and contextual factors that influence success or failure of disconnected youth in high schools and colleges.

“Students’ classroom engagement, academic effort, and subsequent school success or failure are influenced not only by individual differences in skills, abilities, and predispositions, but also by many situational and contextual factors. Among these contextual factors, the quality of school-social relationships may be especially important.”[1]

School-social relationships, as highlighted by Goodenow (1993), offer students a “sense of belonging” or “school membership”, enabling them to feel personally valued and welcome. As the extent to which students feel accepted, respected, included and supported by others in the school environment increases, their classroom participation and school retention increases.[2]  Some of our students share their experiences with Gateway to College, which reflects how their sense of belonging shaped their success and strengthened motivation:

“I’ve made really great relationships here at GtC and I am still heavily involved with the community here. I like to try and reach out when I can when I see other struggling students.”

“…I made friends in my first term that I am still close with on and off campus. I don’t think I would have graduated high school or been ready/motivated for college and my future without gateway.”


“…if I ever had the opportunity to choose this program I would pick it. I would tell them that this feels like home…”

Student survey responses validate these sentiments. We see an average 16% increase in the students’ reported sense of belonging after their first year with Gateway to College as compared to their previous education experiences. The sense of belonging is measured using the Goodenow scale of school membership. The scale assigns students a score between 1-5, based upon their responses to several questions that determine how committed and satisfied they are with their school environment. Scores closer to 5 are indicative of greater attachment with their institution; the average score recorded was 3.6 for students who had completed one academic year with Gateway to College.

As a result of this increased sense of belonging and commitment to their colleges and education, students are more likely to persist through high school and be more prepared for their future academic or professional goals.[3] To measure their preparedness, we collect and analyze student responses from the surveys, which identify their confidence or knowledge around the credit requirements for a high school diploma and further pursuit of their academic goals. On average, Gateway to College students score 3.5 out of 4 on their awareness of future goals and educational pathways. This score has been linked to greater motivation and drive to complete their education.

Our data offers additional valuable insight into the motivation and efforts of students who succeed with Gateway to College programs. We stress the importance of turning to social, psychological and emotional indicators of student motivation and success to fully comprehend the transformative impact of Gateway to College experience and offer more remarks from Gateway to College Students:

“I feel like all of us are here for the same thing so we all motivate each other…”

“I love the Gateway to College program. It has allowed me to discover my potential as a productive citizen in society.”


Kriti Agrawal is a Data Analyst, and has been with GtCNN since June 2015. She is responsible for designing and supporting extensive data collection systems and providing related support to our partners through online training modules, group training webinars and individualized technical assistance. Read more.

[1] Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Tufts University: Psychology in the Schools.

[2] Wehlage, G. (1989). Dropping Out: Can schools be expected to prevent it? In L. Weis, E. Farrar, & H. Petrie (Eds.), Dropouts from school. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[3] Shoemaker, Allen L. (1980). Construct Validity of Area Specific Self-Esteem: The Hare Self-Esteem Scale

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