Inside L-S: PA Youth Survey offers school data of disputed accuracy

Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) is
taken every two years by L-S students.
In September, students at Lampeter-Strasburg High School participated in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS), which the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency began administering in 1989, and has given to students in even numbered grades every two years since then. At L-S, all high school students take the survey to provide the District with data it uses to make decisions pertaining to prevalence of drugs and alcohol in students’ lives.

The anonymous survey asks over 200 questions pertaining to drug use, alcohol consumption, violence prevalence, bullying, school safety, gangs,gambling, family life, and poverty. The longest section is a detailed questionnaire on drug use, with specific enumerations of various types of drugs, and the number of times a student has used them in his or her lifetime. Later, the survey scans student attitudes towards various behaviors.

Justification for the District’s drug prevention program is largely based on data from the PAYS, according to Dr. Benjamin Feeney, assistant principal at L-S High School and the survey’s coordinator.

“[The survey] is used to help make decisions related to school procedures and policies,” he said.

Parents may opt their students out of the survey, and Feeney estimates about 10% of the school’s approximately 1000 students made that choice. Most students take the survey, although they do not especially want to, nor do they necessarily believe it yields accurate data.

“I’d rather have time to work on school work rather than take a survey that has the same answer to every question,” says senior Jarrod Lloyd, who took the survey earlier in high school, but asked his parents to opt him out of it this year.

Asked whether she thinks most students take the survey seriously, senior Lauren Mast, who did take the survey, replies, “Some of them,” before going on to note she knows some people report all kinds of drug use in which they do not actually participate as a joke.

Feeney says the survey is designed to account for such behavior, and that he trusts the data it yields.

I sincerely believe and hope that both teachers and students take the survey seriously,” he says. “The survey data analysis process is able to account for error and false reporting to provide school administrators and agencies with significantly accurate response data.”

In 2009, a District-appointed Drug and Alcohol Task Force, citing data from the survey in that year that indicated some 26% of sophomores reported using marijuana in the preceding 12 months, recommended the implementation of random drug testing for middle and high school students who participate in extracurricular activities, park on campus, or whose parents add them to the testing pool, among other measures aimed to stanch the supposed proliferation of drug use. The policy was eventually narrowed to include only high school students, and after contested votes of support from the School Board, became permanent in 2013.

Data from this year’s survey becomes available in April, and will once again be analyzed by school administration to determine the efficacy of its current efforts to reduce drug and alcohol use, and strategize for the future.

External Resources

Editor's Note: This is the third installment of our November Inside L-S series, "Safety and Security". to read the remainder of the series, please visit our Inside L-S page.

--Benjamin Pontz, Editor-In-Chief

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