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Utah Education Board seeks input after inconclusive debate on student health and risk-prevention survey – St George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Board of Education is seeking feedback on the Student Health and Risk Prevention program following a meeting earlier in the summer when concerns about the program’s survey were raised.

Stock image for illustrative purposes, St. George News

The SHARP survey is a questionnaire given to every student asking specific questions that highlight mental health issues and at-risk behaviors. The questions are intended to help teachers, educational administration and health professionals identify and help fulfill the needs of individual students.

The SHARP survey is part of a federal program that collects student data and also helps provide finances to support initiatives and programs that benefit student health. The survey statewide is administered by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services.

During the meeting, the board expressed concerns about the program after several Utah Department of Health and Human Services representatives presented the program and plans for 2023. The ending result called for the board to submit feedback to the 2023 SHARP survey planning committee.

The board and several representatives of the SHARP survey engaged in several rounds of concerns and debate, which availed to no mutual agreement.

The validity of the survey was raised, especially the collection of the data and whether the survey is mandatory or rewarding students for participating.

Many trustees said they felt concerned about implementing the questionnaire to certain age students, especially sixth grade students, as the survey contains 120 questions.

“As somebody who has given this test to students, the questions are mentally exhausting,” District 3 Trustee Matt Hymas said during the previous board meeting. “You are going to open up some things with some kids who are going to have trouble reading these questions to determine if they skip it or not. Some are going to burn out.”

As a result, Hymas, among other trustees, said these students will likely not answer truthfully, skip or just mark boxes without reading the questions or answers.

Utah State Board of Education trustee Matt Hymas expressed some concerns with the SHARP survey in June 2022 | Photo courtesy of the Utah State Board of Education, St. George News

“I am sure every question is important to you,” Hymas said, “but not to the sixth grader.”

He then recommended getting the SHARP survey down to 50 questions.

“I am 42 years old, and I could barely handle getting through it,” Hymas said.

Trustee Laura Belnap added her concerns with the questions being “leading” and mentally directing kids to answer specific answers. She also said she was concerned about parents not being properly informed that their children are not required to participate in the survey and thus can opt out.

Other issues expressed by the board ranged from the quantity of the questions to the quality of the questions. The vocabulary of the questions and use of specific words brought concerns from multiple trustees.

According to a media release by the Utah Board of Education, due to all of the concerns expressed by the board trustees, “the USBE staff was asked to convene a workgroup to examine the issues brought up. The USBE will then reconsider during the October meeting whether to provide support for the 2023 SHARP survey administration. “

As part of this, the staff is seeking input and feedback on the SHARP survey, including but not limited to SHARP survey questions, methods used to administer SHARP, ways an organization utilizes SHARP survey data and other feedback. And feedback should be as specific and detailed as possible.

They also will be seeking input from organizations such as human services nonprofit organizations, among others. If responding for an organization, they ask the representative to report if they were given authority to speak on behalf of the organization.

The action has resulted in multiple counselors, school employees, as well as parents expressing frustration with the SHARP program not receiving the support of the state board.

Steven Dunham, the director of communication and foundation for Washington County School District, said it’s important to note that the state board is not in the process of cutting out the SHARP survey.

“Rather, they are analyzing the use and success of this survey and the data it is providing the school districts and the State,” he said.

One counselor with the school district, Ryan Stephens, told St. George News he supports the SHARP program and survey.

“One of the main reasons for supporting the SHARP survey is that it provides a baseline of our students’ behaviors and guides us to where our counseling efforts could best be directed,” Stephens said. “We look at this data and decide which classroom guidance activities would be warranted.”

Dunham said the Washington County School District is in support of the SHARP program.

“For us, we and our board are very supportive of the SHARP survey and the valuable information it provides,” he said, adding that they cannot get this information from anywhere else.

The survey also allows the district to compare data with the state and national results to gauge local students’ needs, he said.

“This data is also shared with our supporting partners at Southwest Behavior & Mental Health and their drug prevention program,” he said. “This data is heavily used when applying for State and federal grants that assist in preventing drug use, suicide, and other at-risk behaviors. These grants total more than $2 million and provide staff, resources, and educational and emotional support for students.”

The state board emphasized two specific data about the SHARP survey, according to their media release.

  • Participation in SHARP is a local decision up to each school district or charter. The position of the state board does not prevent local education agencies from participating in SHARP. 
  • USBE does not provide funding for the SHARP survey administration.  No funding was affected by the USBE decision, and SHARP participation will still be free for all schools that participate.

To give input or feedback on the SHARP survey, click here.

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