Opinion: Parents beware. Georgia’s student health survey is invasive and insidious.

A conservative policy analyst says the Student Health Survey conducted and collected by the state crosses too many lines, (AJC File.)

Jane Robbins of Atlanta is an attorney and senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank. In this piece, she discusses the state’s Student Health Survey and why she opposes it.

By Jane Robbins

It’s springtime in Georgia, which means public schools are administering the Georgia Student Health Survey 2.0. Developed by the Georgia Department of Education along with the Department of Public Health and a “school climate” organization at Georgia State University, this survey is designed to identify “safety and health issues that have a negative impact on student achievement and school climate.” One version of the survey is administered in grades 3-5, the other in grades 6-10.

Parents are supposedly notified about the survey in advance and allowed to opt their children out of participating. Parents should do so – if it’s too late this year, then next year and every year thereafter.

Nov. 7, 2013 – Atlanta – Jane Robbins spoke against Common Core during the public comment period at a state board of education meeting. BOB ANDRES/BANDRES@AJC.COM

Such student surveys are all the rage across the country. One reason is the relentless transformation of schools from founts of academic knowledge, as they traditionally have been, to therapeutic institutions with assumed authority to assess children’s physical and mental health and well-being. The government is evaluating mindsets and attitudes, the better to shape schoolchildren into the kinds of the government wants them to be.

This trend is bolstered by the recent fed-ed bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which encourages schools to include such non-academic measures in their accountability ratings. It’s bad enough that the feds demand accountability – which should be to parents, not federal or state bureaucrats – but it’s even worse that they dictate how that accountability should look. So much for the bi-partisan propaganda that ESSA ended federal education mandates.

Anyway, for years Georgia DOE has proudly ridden the progressive wave in education, and its Student Health Survey 2.0 is a good example. In addition to being asked about their feelings about school, children in grades 3-5 are queried whether they’ve been hit or kicked, targeted by rumors or threats, or picked on by being left out. In simpler times, principals and teachers handled these problems as they saw fit (in less severe cases, wisely, by allowing children to work them out on their own); now, the state bureaucracy must know about it.

But the truly objectionable questions come in grades 6-10. Some seek to ferret out positive or negative moral characteristics, by asking students to agree or disagree with statements such as “Doing the right thing is important to me” and “Honesty is an important trait to me.” The DOE claims the answers are anonymous, and given the construction of a cradle-to-career database on all students, parents should pray that’s true. What student wants a college or potential employer to discover this applicant doesn’t care about honesty?

But the worst questions concern health and behaviors: “In the past 30 days, on how many days did you have at least one drink of alcohol? Smoke cigarettes? Use marijuana, heroin, cocaine? Binge drink? Drive a car while under the influence? Run with gangs? Consider suicide? Attempt suicide?” Although the student may choose the response “0 days,” the wording of the question suggests that the school/government expects students to have engaged in some of this behavior (consider the question, “Where do your friends usually use alcohol or tobacco?”).

Raising the issues in this manner normalizes the behavior. Imagine asking your 11-year-old out of the blue if he had stolen something from a store. The question alone suggests to him that even if you disapprove of shoplifting, it falls within the realm of expected behavior.

The same problem exists with the questions asking students how old they were when they first did all these things. True, they can choose the “never used” or similar response, but the suggestion is firmly implanted now that the government expects this conduct from preteens and teenagers.

It’s worth mentioning that the validity of student surveys is questionable at best, and in the case of teenaged boys, utterly useless. Anyone who ever raised a male teenager can attest that boys will treat all this as a joke and provide the most outlandish answers imaginable. And although bureaucrats might assert the value of, for example, knowing if some students are suicidal, the survey is supposedly anonymous – so how can a positive response lead to help for a particular student?

But even if the surveys were valid, young people shouldn’t be exposed to them. In a world in which all boundaries of privacy are being erased, students should learn that no one other than their parents or (in some cases) doctor has the right to ask such questions – not even, or especially not, the government. Nor are students’ mindsets and attitudes any of the government’s business.

Parents, teach your children well. Opt out of the Georgia Student Health Survey.

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
Lauren Beattie Bischof
Lauren Beattie Bischof

These tests are not anonymous, Gwinnett county students bubble in their student numbers.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Pardon the off-topic interruption but Breaking news!

National Education Policy Center reports that “Secretary DeVos Has Secret Russia Meeting With Potential Grizzly.”

“BOULDER, CO (April 1, 2017) – As part of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s campaign to promote educational vouchers, she held a secret meeting last week with Boo Boo Medvedev, a Russian bear who is said to have close ties to bear leadership throughout the northern hemisphere.”

Read about it at http://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2017/04/secretary-devos

Another comment
Another comment

One look at this women shows that she is a prude afraid that her presious darling might reveal everything is not perfect in her household.

By the way kids who attend expensive private Christian schools attempt suicide in the 3-5 grade cohort. Just call the local Private mental Heath hospitals they admit 4 year olds. 7-8 year olds are common.

The Top Private Schools that cost $29k to 30k a year have major weed and Herion issues. Why else would one place in College Park be called Weedward. All the private school kids have long had open access to Mommy and the neighbors medicine cabinets.

Kathy Brown
Kathy Brown

I honestly don't understand why anyone cares about student health. It's NOT NOT NOT like anyone is going to allocate MORE educational funding for education. Seems to me somebody is going to try to BLAME POOR TEST SCORES ON OBESITY or unhealthy kids.

Lynn Nicolai Muench
Lynn Nicolai Muench

Its a stupid survey, but the author's assertion that Georgia is riding a "progressive wave" of anything is patently ridiculous. Georgia is riding a wave of privatization, which, last I checked, is a pet project of conservatives. And why are schools in the business of addressing health concerns? Because school systems are held responsible for a wide swath of health related services which private insurers have offloaded to the public - therapies (such as speech, OT/PT), specialized medical care, behavioral health, etc

Andrea Conaway
Andrea Conaway

This survey has been around forever and my English classes are interrupted to administer. The kids halfway read the questions and most don't take it seriously. We have bigger fish to fry.

Diane Leggett Benjamin
Diane Leggett Benjamin

I promise you that students do not take this, or any of the myriad other surveys, seriously. The worst part is that the survey makes computer labs unavailable for actual instruction.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

“This data exists in order to deem a school with ‘bad climate’ and injure communities ….”

This is exactly the recent “bad climate” stunt pro-school choice Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen and her school board had included in their manipulative scheming to close and replace Adamsville Primary Schools with a charter school.  On the school climate rating scale from 1 (bad) to 5 (best), Adamsville’s 2015 school climate rating was a 4, one below best.  Then, inexplicably, Adamsville’s 2016 school climate rating dropped to 1, bad, conveniently just in time for Carstarphen to move against the school and indeed bring injury to the school’s community.

Maureen, have the remaining two or three Carstarphen video segments been posted? 

Janel Marie
Janel Marie

These questions have been administered for years. This is not new.

Melissa Daniel Giggey
Melissa Daniel Giggey

I would agree with some this is the only fact of the article. It is a lean to the right.

Laura Robinson
Laura Robinson

I am not sure if you can make the argument that a survey is utterly useless and invalid if you then go on to make the broad claim that all boys will act in a certain way. That statement is completely unscientific and inappropriate. I realize this article is "opinion" but I am questioning the usefulness of these rather baseless arguments. The article seems to get parents in an uproar and doesn't really address the possible "whys" and benefits of data derived from these surveys.

Suzanne Willett
Suzanne Willett

Like the middle school kids are naïve enough to give accurate answers. All of the ones that I know take great enjoyment out of creating the most bizarre answers to these questions to mess with the results.

historydawg
historydawg

When have progressives controlled education policy? Haha. What ignorance to historical and current reality. These surveys are clearly a part of the "data-driven" models designed to undermine public education. This data exists in order to deem a school with "bad climate" and injure communities with the CCRPI monster that the political right has created to discredit and discard public-school students and teachers. If the author truly believes that schools and teachers long to waste instructional time on administering these surveys, she severely mistaken. This is akin to the conservative cry against Common Core--a curriculum created and proposed by the Right (albeit governors, not the feds). It must be frustrating for public school teachers who are simultaneously oppressed by policies designed to destroy them and by critics to parade false notions that such policies were designed by those very teachers, not the critics themselves.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@historydawg 

1)  In the past 30 days have you ridiculed political correctness as much as it deserves -- or less than it deserves?

2)  Do you often feel murderous toward failing public schools or those who make excuses for them?

3)  Are you able to control these feelings better than most parents -- or less well?

4)  Is the spelling of your first and last name at the top of this anonymous questionnaire correct?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@historydawg

Well said. It's just a ruse to create a standard that will be used to shift money /power to the "right" people.

GSU070913
GSU070913

Unfortunately, it appears that the author of this opinion piece does not understand the basics of survey research nor the fundamentals of human subjects research. There are ample textbook resources one could use to become more familiar with survey research, and anyone can engage with understanding more about human subjects research here: https://about.citiprogram.org/en/series/human-subjects-research-hsr/.


My main points are these: First, asking questions on a survey does not normalize behavior. To be certain, survey question wording is an important and complex aspect of any survey. However, if we are not able to ask people questions worded in benign ways, how will we ever learn about attitudes and beliefs? Second, when doing survey research on subjects younger than 18 years old, there are very specific and legally binding rules regarding the types of information, the security of that information, and the reporting requirements as a result. Basically, parents have a right-of-refusal at any time. They are the agent. Moreover, the questions asked of minors go through rigorous vetting via IRB review at several stages. 


I can accept that the author has philosophical issues with the level of oversight these surveys imply, however, that is no reason to impugn the value of the research itself. 

weetamoe
weetamoe

@GSU070913 "asking questions on a survey does not normalize behavior"--but the sort of assumptions built into the survey questions exemplify the very question-begging fallacy that presumably educated persons should avoid. The survey content reveals the incompetence (or venality)  of those authoritarians in charge of what passes for education in public schools. I would advise parents to caution their children to refuse answering all  personal questions.

kelli
kelli

Once they start the survey it does allow them to skip answers or refuse particular questions. They have to answer them all, lie, or quit the survey.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@GSU070913

Don't be stupid or evil-opt out is evil and you know it. Opt in by informed parent choice is freedom. Opt out is coercion of children. You need better research ethics.