SAN FRANCISCO – When asked about how safe they feel at school, just over half of secondary students report feeling safe, according to data released today by the San Francisco-based nonprofit YouthTruth Student Survey. The findings come from a recent analysis of student perception survey data from a diverse but not nationally representative sample of nearly 35,000 students in grades five through 12 across 8 states, gathered between February 2012 and March 2017.
While 66 percent of students feel safe in their classes, only 59 percent say they feel safe at school in general. When asked about other locations on their school campus, 55 percent of students say they feel safe on school property outside their school building and just 54 percent say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms, and locker rooms of their school.
“We know that a safe school environment is crucial for student learning. Safety is an essential component of a supportive learning environment and a foundation for academic success,” said Jen Wilka, YouthTruth’s executive director. “School leaders who have insight into how safe or unsafe students feel in school can better target resources and interventions.”
The analysis also found that less than two thirds of secondary students report that adults at their schools try to stop bullying and harassment. While 60 percent of students respond positively, it still leaves considerable room for improvement when 40 percent of students feel neutrally or negatively about adult role models’ reactions to bullying. The perception that adults are not addressing harassment and bullying contributes to students feeling less safe and negatively affects overall school culture. When asked whether students help their peers who are bullied or harassed, 58 percent of middle school students and 51 percent of high school students report that they try to help their bullied peers.
Just over a third of students — 37 percent — report that students at their school get into physical fights at least somewhat often, and 31 percent of students report that they must be ready to fight to defend themselves at least somewhat often. Schools where physical fights are common may not be able to maintain a focused school environment that is conducive to learning.
When disaggregating by students’ self-reported demographics, middle school students are slightly more likely than high school students to report that fights occur at least somewhat often and they feel the need to defend themselves at least somewhat often. Forty-three percent of middle school students report that fights occur at least somewhat often, compared to 35 percent of high school students. Similarly, 40 percent of middle school students feel that they must be prepared to defend themselves at least somewhat often, compared to just 28 percent of high school students.
The analysis also found slight differences when examining responses by students’ self-reported race/ethnicity. Black or African-American students are slightly more likely than white students to report that they feel they must be ready to defend themselves at least somewhat often. Forty one percent of black or African-American students feel they must be ready to defend themselves at least somewhat often, compared to 21 percent of white students.
One important note about this data is that the inverse of the percent of students who responded positively is not equal to the percent of students who responded negatively. For example, when asked if they feel safe in their classes, 66% of students responded positively. The remaining 44% responded either neutrally or negatively.
YouthTruth partners with districts and charter management organizations across the country to gather student, family, and school staff feedback on the themes that matter most to creating healthy climate and culture. Utilizing sophisticated technology to analyze perception feedback against a large library of aggregate data, YouthTruth also offers professional development and coaching to on how to use student and stakeholder feedback to drive change.