School districts and parents opt out of intrusive state student survey

State education officials frame the Minnesota Student Survey given to fifth, eighth, ninth and eleventh grade students every three years as a tool to identify trends and “gain insights into the world of students and their experiences.” But one trend skipped over by the Minnesota Department of Education is the slow, but steady increase in families and school districts choosing to opt out of taking what critics view as an intrusive state survey into students’ private lives.

Some 36 percent of students declined to take the 2019 survey, up from 28 percent who refused to participate in 2004. Over the same period, the percentage of school districts taking a pass on the survey increased from 12 percent to 19 percent across the state. The results of the 2022 survey will not be compiled until later this year.

My colleague Catrin Wigfall recently revealed why more parents and districts have raised concerns over the optional survey’s content.

The 2022 Minnesota Student Survey, provided by the Minnesota Department of Education to schools to administer, uses valuable classroom time to ask students inappropriate and personal questions about gender, sex, alcohol and drug abuse, and their parents.

Fifth graders are asked if they have had alcoholic beverages, used marijuana or sniffed glue in the past year. They are also asked if they have smoked cigarettes in the last month…

Students in junior high are asked how many times (if any) they have used cocaine, heroin, and meth. MDE’s survey also asks them to specify whether they are “straight,” “asexual,” “pansexual,” “queer” “bisexual,” “gay or lesbian,” “questioning/not sure,” “don’t describe” themselves “in any of these ways” or are “not sure what this question means.” Questions about parents include whether they regularly swear at their kids, insult them or put them down, if they have ever been in jail or prison, and if anyone in the household is depressed or has other mental health issues.

The MDE website puts the pressure on districts and families to support the survey as a sort of damage assessment inflicted by school shutdowns and other ill-advised policies during the pandemic.

The past year and a half have been hard on us all, but they’ve been especially hard on Minnesota’s young people. We also know that youth are resilient, and when provided with positive support and resources that meet their needs, they will thrive. The statewide Minnesota Student Survey is the only survey that captures the viewpoint of adolescents, and therefore provides a timely and valuable opportunity for us to check in with Minnesota youth.

With this valuable information, we can better understand their worlds and realities, and therefore better address issues and support them.

We need your help. By supporting the MSS you can help your school and community learn more about the health, safety, and well-being of Minnesota’s young people.

But the Post Bulletin points out some families and school districts still want nothing to do with the increasingly controversial state questionnaire.

Both Wabasha-Kellogg and Plainview-Elgin-Millville school districts decided not to take part in the survey, which the state administers every three years. The issue was discussed briefly Wednesday at the Wabasha-Kellogg School Board meeting.

“There was a lot of language and questions in the survey that we didn’t feel were appropriate for our children,” said Wabasha-Kellogg parent Tony Johnson.

The survey also was the source of some tension in school districts that still hosted the survey. Lake City Superintendent Erick Enger said there were parents who came to speak to the school board about their concerns with the survey in that district as well.

It will be telling to see whether the increased number of parents raising questions over classroom issues and at school board meetings post-pandemic will lead to a further erosion in the participation rate for the 2022 MSS. Schools have about another month to turn in completed surveys to the state for compilation.