The Illinois Youth Survey is used to help local professionals and school administrators identify, and hopefully decrease, the rates of negative occurrences like drug and alcohol abuse, bullying and depression among students. But in this year’s results, the sample size was smaller.
Only 49 percent of the eighth-graders enrolled in the district during the 2015-16 school year took the voluntary survey, a significant drop compared to the 2012 and 2014 surveys, both of which garnered response rates of 77 percent.
This year’s low participation has prompted district officials to recommend that the public use caution when interpreting the results, since the data may not necessarily represent the total student population.
According to a statement released by the district, “Students from Julian Middle School exercised their right not to answer some of the questions. As a result, the district failed to meet the state’s participation criteria for the survey, which impacted our overall response rate.”
When asked whether the low response rate may have been connected to the controversy surrounding the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) — which many students in Oak Park and throughout the country had opted out of last year — district officials said they didn’t believe there “is any correlation.”
“While our response rate on the survey was lower than in years past, we were still able to collect valuable data and feedback that will enable us to continue engaging our students and their families in a positive and productive dialogue about a variety of important health and social issues,” the district added.
Among the 296 D97 eighth-graders who took the 2016 survey, 23 percent reported using substances, including alcohol (21 percent), tobacco (3 percent), inhalants (3 percent) or marijuana (3 percent). Nine percent of those students reported using alcohol within 30 days of taking the survey.
In 2012 and 2014, 34 percent and 30 percent of eighth-graders, respectively, reported using substances within a year of taking those surveys. Alcohol was the one most students reported using within a year of taking the survey.
In 2012 and 2014, 32 percent and 28 percent of eighth-graders, respectively, reported using alcohol. In both years, marijuana was the second most popular substance, with 8 percent reportedly using it within a year of taking the surveys.
In 2012, 2014 and 2016, 24 percent, 33 percent and 24 percent of eighth-graders, respectively, reported experiencing depression within a year of taking those surveys.
In addition to drug use and depression, the youth survey also asked eighth-graders about bullying. In 2012 and 2014, 43 percent and 42 percent reported at least one type of bullying. In 2016, 47 percent of students reported being bullied. In all three survey years, around a third of students who reported that they’d been bullied noted that it took the form of name-calling. A little less than 1 in 5 students responding in each survey year noted that the bullying took the form of threats.
District officials said the survey results will be shared with Oak Park Township and other community agencies to help students address drug and alcohol abuse.
In July, middle school social workers underwent a special day and a half training designed to “improve parenting and family relationships,” according to district administrators, who also noted that the district will be implementing certain curriculum measures to “help prevent bullying issues.”
They will also be working to ensure a stronger response rate among students in 2018, when the next Illinois Youth Survey is administered.