OPINION: Florida turns its back on an important national survey
In April, the Florida Department of Education made the decision to no longer administer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Behavior Risk Survey, a national survey designed to monitor the prevalence of dangerous behaviors in the country’s high schools, according to its website.
This survey is a valuable resource for helping Florida’s teens by giving parents, teachers and legislators an understanding of the problems they face. Opting out of it was a poor decision that should be reversed.
High schools across the country have administered this survey since 1991, and Florida has taken part in it since the beginning. More than 13,000 high schoolers participated in the 2019 survey, as stated on the CDC website. The questionnaires anonymously poll students on a variety of topics, from not wearing a seatbelt to drug and alcohol use.
The data collected is essential in developing programs and allocating resources to effectively combat these issues.
Florida has been asked by several organizations to reconsider this decision, including Women’s Foundation of Florida, Florida Association of School Psychologists and Center for Children’s Rights.
On May 24, an email was sent to Florida Department of Education Interim Commissioner Jacob Oliva by the Florida Policy Institute requesting they resume the survey. This email was signed by 37 other organizations and 40 individuals in support of the request.
Florida legislators try to justify their decision by claiming they plan to develop a new survey that will be more specific to Florida and its particular issues.
“We want to make sure that we can meet the needs of our stakeholders here in Florida, and ask questions that are specific to Florida,” Oliva said in a May 6 article by Tampa Bay Times.
There hasn’t been any evidence of developments on these new questions yet.
Specific questions can also be asked without outright rejecting the entire survey. It is very flexible and can be adjusted depending on the area in which it is administered. The CDC website said that states, counties and districts are able to add or remove questions to better address issues specific to that area.
Developing a new survey would also negate a lot of the progress that has been made using the current one. Most significantly, it would make it much more difficult to measure progress over time. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey has been used for over 30 years, making it a great tool to compare the progression of various issues.
By creating a new survey, Florida will establish a new baseline and disrupt the way these behaviors are monitored.
If they are planning to avoid this by monitoring the behaviors similarly to the original survey, that brings into question why they felt the need to reject the original one in the first place.
Oliva claimed that the reason for this was to make sure if the state asks schools to take time away from learning, it’s for something meaningful and useful, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.
If this is the case, creating a new survey will be counterproductive, as it will disrupt the monitoring of the meaningful and useful data that has already been collected.
This decision is a costly one. Florida receives a grant from the CDC to administer the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and collect the data, as stated by the Florida Policy Institute in their email.
Refusing to administer this survey means that Florida will lose this grant, likely leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for the development and administration of a new one.
“It would cost the state much more than the recurring federal grant to develop and adequately test a new measure,” the Florida Policy Institute said in its letter to Oliva.
The Florida Department of Education needs to reverse its decision and resume administration of the Youth Behavior Risk Survey. It has this incredible tool right in front of them, and there is no reason for them to throw it away.