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SAN FRANCISCO – One in three students rate their school culture positively, according to data released today by the San Francisco-based nonprofit YouthTruth Student Survey. The data comes from recent analysis of survey data from over 80,000 students across 24 states in grades five through twelve. High school students are less likely to positively rate their school culture than middle school students: 44 percent of sixth-grade students rate their school culture positively, compared to only 32 percent of ninth-grade students and just 28 percent of eleventh-grade students.
Contributing to the poor perception of school culture, less than half of all students report that they feel discipline at their school is fair, and experiences vary widely by self-reported race/ethnicity. While 49 percent of Asian students, 39 percent of White students, and 39 percent of Hispanic students agree that discipline at their school is fair, only 34 percent of multi-racial students and 28 percent of Black or African-American students agree. These findings echo previous studies of student perceptions about discipline.
“Students are the experts on their own experience, and it’s important that education decision-makers – from principals to superintendents, and from education funders to the education secretary – listen to this feedback,” said Sonya Heisters, YouthTruth’s director of partnerships. “This data shows us the degree to which students of different races, ethnicities, and gender identities can have profoundly different experiences of their school than other students. We hope that these findings will embolden educators to prioritize work that will help improve how students experience discipline, respect, and overall school culture.”
The survey also found that students recognize that adults in schools tend to treat students with more respect than students treat adults – while 57 percent of students agree that most adults treat students with respect, only 34 percent agree that students treat adults with respect.
“School environments are shaped by the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs of the people who spend time there – both adults and students,” said John Boyd, Superintendent of Quincy School District in Washington. “This data tells us that middle and high school students are aware that they are falling short in their agreement to treat others with respect. This awareness creates the starting place for a new, and better, relationship dynamic.”
Students’ gender identity also matters. While 35 percent of male students and 32 percent of female students rate their school culture positively, only 16 percent of students who self-report that they identify in a different way rate their school culture positively. While these students account for less than 2 percent of the students surveyed, when every voice matters this data deserves attention.
Founded in 2008, YouthTruth works with schools across the country to use student, family, and school staff feedback to inform educational improvements. Utilizing sophisticated technology to analyze student feedback against a large library of aggregate data, YouthTruth also consults and informs school leaders to make meaningful decisions on other important issues such as social-emotional learning, school safety and bullying, and academic rigor.