Questions and Answers Regarding the Search Institute Surveys
What surveys were conducted and with which students?
There are two different surveys: the Profile of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors Developmental Asset Survey (We will call this the High Risk Behavior Survey.) and the Developmental Asset Profile (We will call this the Assets Profile). Both are provided by the Search Institute.
High Risk Behavior Survey
(which includes the Asset Profile)
Grade 7 and 8 (middle school)
Grades 3 and 4 (elementary)
Grades 5 and 6 (intermediate)
Grades 9 and 10 (high school)
The High Risk Behavior Survey has been used in at the middle school in Bedford every four years for the past 16 years. The purpose of this survey is to gather general patterns about students' "developmental assets" and risky behaviors. Developmental assets are things students have that help them make better decisions. One example of an asset is a commitment to learning. Students who complete homework routinely and who read for pleasure are showing a commitment to learning. Risky behaviors are things students might choose to do that are negative. One example is substance abuse. The more developmental assets a student has, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors.
The Assets Profile asks only about developmental assets, not risky behavior. That survey was begun this year in grades 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 9 and 10. We are using this survey to establish a baseline to be able to monitor our district's progress on our mission to develop a community of learners who are intellectually curious, resourceful and respectful of self and others.
Why do we use the High Risk Behavior Survey?
In an ideal world, all of our students would possess the positive assets needed to decide not to engage in any risky behaviors. However, based on the past results of the survey and our own experience with adolescent children, we know that some of Bedford’s middle school aged children have engaged in sex, used drugs, consumed alcohol, and used tobacco products. Information is an important tool to help us protect our students from engaging in at-risk behavior. The information from this survey helps refine Lurgio’s health curriculum and other school programs such as Stand by Me. The information also supports community groups such as the Coalition for Bedford Youth (CBY). For example, CBY shares the aggregate survey results to the community through BCTV shows, presentations, and brochures. The district is invested in partnering with parents and the community in our efforts to raise positive and productive children. All the results of this survey will be shared with parents and the community so that we can better understand and support our students.
Why are we using the Asset Profile?
Each school has established school goals and one of them is based on the district mission “to develop a community of learners who are intellectually curious, resourceful and respectful of self and others.” We are using this survey to establish a baseline to be able to monitor our district's progress on the district mission.
How were parents notified of the surveys?
We used the standard method of communication to parents at each level.
For the elementary school (grades 3 and 4), parents needed to opt in to the survey. In the higher grades, we decided that parents could opt out of the survey because that has been the practice in the past.
Did students have to put their ID numbers on the surveys?
Were copies made of the survey? Will the survey be destroyed?
We made no paper copies of any of the surveys. The originals have been mailed to the Search Institute. According to the Search Institute, their policy regarding the destruction of surveys is to “retain the surveys for 90 days (in case a re-scan is needed)” and then “they are destroyed." The policy goes on to say, "To maintain student confidentiality, survey forms will not be returned to the school or contracting party." The aggregate results of the survey are returned to us in a report. No individual data is connected to the results.
What about electronic copies of the survey?
According the the Search Institute, they retain the anonymous individual records with the school data removed. The Search Institute uses the aggregated dataset without any link back to individual youth or school for research purposes. An example of a recent report is their "A Fragile Foundation" study. The data is never sold or shared with anyone.
Don’t students answer falsely and doesn’t that invalidate the survey?
No. The Search Institute designed the survey in a way that they are able to identify any individual survey that indicates inconsistent responses. Those responses are thrown out. Typically, less than one in one hundred surveys is thrown out. In addition, the “noise” (the random inflation or deflation of response rates due to false answers) in surveys like this has been found to be consistent from survey to survey. As a result, the analysis can be accurately based on trend data over time. .
What is the purpose of the questions on sexual orientation and gender identity questions? Are those "developmental assets" or “risky behaviors”?
That is a question we wondered ourselves and so we asked the Search Institute, who developed the survey. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not risk behaviors, in and of themselves. However, they are strongly correlated to risk behaviors, specifically drug abuse and suicide. While the survey does not identify individuals, it does help a community get a sense of the scale of that issue. This question was modified from the 2010 survey as a result of a change in practice on the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Study.
Did the District violated federal law?
No. The law referenced (20 U.S. Code § 1232h - Protection of pupil rights)
requires written permission from parents if the student is required to participate. Both the DAP and the A&B were voluntary. No student was required to participate in the survey. Every parent was given the option to opt out. If students did choose to participate, they could skip any and all questions. The survey results are anonymous. This was articulated in the letter to parents, which was emailed in advance of the survey. The letter also reminded parents they could view the survey in advance.
Do surveys like this encourage the risky behavior?
No. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “There is no evidence that simply asking students about health risk behaviors will encourage them to try that behavior.” http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/faq.htm
Trend data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a national survey used by the CDC, indicate that the prevalence of many health-risk behaviors (including sexual behaviors, tobacco use, and many violence-related behaviors) has decreased since 1991, even though many students nationwide have taken surveys, including the YRBS, about health-risk behaviors.
As a side note, many students have access to specific graphic information about risk behaviors through music, TV, and movies. Unlike surveys, the media frequently portrays risky behaviors without showing the risk involved.
In the newspaper, a representative from the Search Institute was quoted as saying that a district could eliminate specific questions. Is that true?
In March of 2014, the Search Institute announced that it had added functionality to delete specific questions from surveys when given on the computer. At that point it was too late for the district to change our plan for the Asset Profile. In addition, the High Risk Behavior Survey is conducted on paper and could not be adjusted.
What are the district’s next steps?
We have taken the feedback from parents and community members seriously. We intend to take a thoughtful and deliberate approach to reviewing the process we followed in administering the surveys. This process takes time and we need to allow for broad input into any decision making. Fortunately, we have a year before we plan to administer the Asset Survey again, and the High Risk Behavior Survey is not scheduled until 2018.
We also look forward to reviewing the results from the Asset Profile and High Risk Behavior Survey. We will have those results over the summer and plan to share them with the community in the fall. The Asset Profile will help the district set a baseline as we seek to improve our performance relative to the district mission. The High Risk Behavior Survey will help us adjust our health curriculum and programming.