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Students Urge Greater Focus on Extracurriculars

Danbury High School senior

Danbury High School senior Alexandra Prendergast, presented to the state Board of Education today.

State standardized test scores still make up the lion’s share of a high school’s rating under Connecticut’s Next Generation Accountability System, but high school students today urged the state Board of Education to further broaden the list of measures used to rate schools.

In addition to students’ scores on state tests, Connecticut high schools are currently rated based on factors including graduation and attendance rates, postsecondary entrance rates, percent of students meeting physical fitness standards, and the percent of students participating in art classes.

Members of the State Student Advisory Council on Education want to add extracurricular activities to that list.

“We think there’s great value in extracurriculars,” said Guilford High School senior Sean Hackett told state Board of Education members.

Danbury high school senior Alexandra Prendergast added, “What happens outside of the classroom can really be formative to a student’s development.”

The students emphasized that extracurriculars teach social skills, leadership skills, and how to work in groups and communicate with others. “Students can form important relationships with peers and mentors through extracurricular activities. They give students a small and meaningful community within the larger high school,” Prendergast said.

Sean Hackett

Guilford High School senior Sean Hackett, a member of the State Student Advisory Council on Education.

Hackett said that students involved with clubs and athletic teams are more likely to attend school so that they can participate in those activities. He said extracurriculars also provide students with valuable experiences that colleges and employers are looking for.

The State Student Advisory Council surveyed 12 suburban schools and six urban schools and found that students in the suburban schools had twice as many extracurricular opportunities as students in urban schools.

“Students aren’t having the same equal opportunity to pursue extracurriculars,” Prendergast said.

The students recommended including either the portion of students involved in extracurricular activities or the number of activities available to students in the state accountability system.

State Board of Education members responded favorably to the students’ presentation.

“That engagement outside the classroom is critical for students,” said Board member Estela López.

Asked about the feasibility of incorporating extracurriculars into the state accountability system, Ajit Gopalakrishnan, bureau chief for the state Department of Education’s Performance Office, said that the state does not have the data right now, and that incorporating such a measure would require further study.

Research backs up students’ findings

The students are not alone in their recognition of extracurricular activities as vital to high school students’ success.

A study released last year by researchers at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform examined trends in extracurricular participation back to the 1970s. They found that, “While upper-middle class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams since the 1970s, working-class students have become increasingly disengaged and disconnected, their participation rates plummeting in the 1990s and remaining low ever since.”

Writing in the Institute’s Voices in Urban Education publication, Kaisa Snellman, Jennifer Silva, and Robert Putnam cited the many benefits of extracurricular activities, saying that students’ opportunities outside of the classroom have an impact on in-school performance and achievements following graduation.

“Struggling with budget cuts and deficits, many school districts have cut back on their funding for drama clubs and music programs and either reduced the number of after-school sports offered or put a hefty price tag on participation. The end result is that an increasing number of low-income students find themselves left on the sidelines,” the researchers wrote.

While wealthier districts may also face budget cuts, parents in those districts are more likely to be able to afford pay-to-play programs or raise money for class trips and sports and music programs.

“For some, it may seem fair that students who want to participate should pay for the activities,” Snellman et al. wrote. “But the rising financial barriers to participation have serious consequences, especially for those who need [these activities] the most.”


  1. I don’t follow the logic here. These students are suggesting extracurriculars should count towards a school’s ranking. But they also point out that wealthy white suburban schools have many more offerings and higher participation rates. So if we did count the extracurriculars, wouldn’t it raise the rankings of the white wealthy schools even more – while leaving the inner city schools behind. I’m not sure we need that.

    June 2, 2016
    • Wealthy schools already rank more highly because rankings are primarily determined by student test scores on state standardized exams, and wealthy districts score more highly on those tests. I can’t speak for the students, but I believe their idea is that including extracurriculars as a factor in the rankings would provide an incentive for districts to offer more of these activities that offer life-long benefits to students. Right now the state is mostly incentivizing districts to focus their resources on tests and test prep.

      June 3, 2016

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