Stanford survey results allow for conversation on student health

graphic by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Avery/" title="View all of this person's work">"Avery</a></span>

graphic by Avery Hom

This month, the district had the opportunity to receive and analyze the results from the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, a survey that PHS students participated in during their English classes in mid-December.

The online survey, taken by 1,417 PHS students, assessed their views on topics relevant to highly competitive school districts, including teacher support, academic engagement, stress, sleep, physical and mental health, extracurriculars, and academic integrity. PHS will use the anonymous survey results, recently sent back in a comprehensive data report six to eight weeks after the survey was taken, in order to get a more accurate understanding of student perspectives on these topics. This way, the district will be able to identify issues within the student body and be able to discuss solutions as well as compare PHS to other competitive schools.

In most cases, students felt that the Stanford survey was an effective way for the school to assess the district and its academic characteristics.

“Before I took the survey, I wasn’t sure if it was useful information for us as a school. When I took the survey, it asked us our opinions about our teachers as well our school system, showing the importance of student opinion of the high school’s academic rigorousness within the district,” said Yeram Kang ’18.

The results of the survey were released to students and parents on April 19. Students were given the chance to attend a presentation on the data, and parents received a similar opportunity that evening.

At the presentations, certain statistics were revealed that caused concern among both students and parents.

62 percent of students felt that they had too much homework, and students across all four grades spent an average of about three-and-a-half hours per weeknight in addition to spending several hours on extracurriculars and non-school-assigned homework.

In contrast to other schools who took the survey, PHS students spent about a half-hour more on school-assigned homework.

However, for all these hours spent on homework, about 41 percent of students also reported that they only “do school,” meaning that though they work hard, they rarely find the work fun, interesting, or valuable. Similarly, only 15 percent of students felt that they had full engagement in learning, working hard, and finding the work enjoyable and meaningful.

“Students have 3.5 hours of homework on average, plus one hour of non-school homework, plus 1.6 hours of extracurricular activities a day … that’s six hours … if you started at 7:00 [p.m.], you wouldn’t be done until [after] midnight, and you’re getting less than six hours of sleep,” said Board of Education President Patrick Sullivan.

Portions of the survey also focused on problems that relate to the total amount of sleep students are receiving. Instead of the recommended nine hours of sleep for high school students, PHS students reported an average of six-and-a-quarter hours of sleep per weeknight. This was also a lower average than other comparable high schools who took the survey.

 “I thought [the survey results were] appalling and shameful, but unfortunately not surprising. All the problems that the survey revealed are integrally related elements of a much bigger problem. It starts with overwork and developmentally inappropriate expectations … it felt to me like this data was all of our children crying out for us to do something about it — to help them,” said Andrea Spalla, former president of the Board of Education.

Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter also found some sections striking when reviewing the data, specifically the sections touching upon problems related to physical well-being.

“[For] the physical symptoms of stress, I know about them, because I work with guidance and the nurse, but to see them on paper is striking,” said Baxter.

In just the month leading up to the survey, 41 percent of students exhibited exhaustion, headaches, and difficulty sleeping, and 47 percent of PHS students missed more than one day of school during that month due to stress-related health or emotional problems. 81 percent of students reported that they felt often or always stressed by school work, and schoolwork often or always kept 70 percent of students from spending time with friends and family.

Additionally, one aspect of the survey explored cheating at PHS. It was found that the three most common forms of cheating were through working on assignments with other students when the instructor asked for individual work, copying someone else’s homework, and getting questions or answers from someone who has already taken the test.

Some parents felt that due to the way the data was presented, it may not have accurately reflected concerns and issues within specific groups of people.

“Because they presented a lot of mean values, it wasn’t broken down by subgroups, [like] students who take more APs than others … the means are very sensitive to [outliers], so there might be a special group of kids who [have] special circumstances and are moving a mean up or down … I think the data has to be presented and analyzed in a more specific way, especially if we are going to use this data to make decisions that impact students,” said Oscar Torres-Reyna, a statistician and PHS parent.

PHS teachers and the Student Achievement Committee on the BOE had the opportunity to look at the data prior to the presentation, and have experiments planned for later in the year.

“For now, nothing is concrete. We are making sure that everyone is aware of the information that this survey has given us,” Student Achievement Committee member Brian Li ’17 said.

The recent freshman testing schedule experiment during the third quarter, in which teachers were only allowed to give exams on certain letter days determined by department, was a response to this survey.

Data from the survey suggested that students often become extremely stressed because they have many tests on a single day, so the experiment looked to alleviate that stress. Changing the way tests and exams were given, such as putting a limit on how many a student had per day, was among the changes that students thought would be most effective and beneficial. Other popular changes included adding more student-directed time during the day and creating more time for students to work on homework and projects in school.

Student Liaisons Abigail Emison ’17 and Li are also planning to put together a group of students that will brainstorm possible solutions based on the survey data before narrowing them down to the feasible ones that are most likely to be well-accepted across the student body.

Gary Snyder, the principal of PHS, who led the discussion of the data during the parent presentation, also mentioned that the survey could be taken again in the future to see if changes implemented cause a difference in survey data.

“For now, [the data] spurred a lot of conversation, and it has spurred some small changes already, and I think it can fuel larger changes. It can be a benchmark; after we do some things, we can give the survey again. In the future years we could look at it again and see if some of the changes we made have resulted in a difference in the survey data,” said Snyder.

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