With mental health affecting 20 percent of American students, KMIZ reports, it is a crucial issue to address in schools. Columbia Public Schools (CPS) has a system in place to check mental wellness in students.
Students in elementary, middle and high schools across the CPS district take a Coalition Checklist, an online questionnaire designed to assess relationships with peers, emotions and social behavior. CPS distributes the survey to all schools in the district thrice yearly. Only principals see the result, except for a few individual cases.
The purpose of the checklist is meaningful; gathering information about students’ interpersonal relationships and mental well-being is a crucial procedure to better ensure student mental wellness.
The Coalition Checklist, however, falls short in offering the best aid to students.
To start, the medium in which CPS administers the questionnaire allows for a high percentage of inaccurate and dishonest answers. One can easily fill out the survey without taking it seriously by clicking on any answer without anything holding him or her accountable. The lack of accountability allows for students who may struggle emotionally to slip by the administrators’ watch.
Though students who lie on the online questions will probably also lie if the survey were given via paper or in a face-to-face interview, it’s safe to say that an online questionnaire does not guarantee truth. Mental wellness is an imperative subject to tackle; yet, if a student does not wish for aid, that student will not answer honestly in any forum of survey.
But if one chooses to answer the questions honestly, there is little substantial information to thoroughly evaluate a student’s mental well-being. Questions such as “Do you have people to sit with at lunch?” And “How often have you experienced sadness in the past month?” do not accurately gauge the emotions one feels nor accounts for unconventional circumstances. A student may not have friends to sit with at lunch because his or her friends do not share the same lunch, yet he or she can still be socially adept. Conversely, a student may have friends to sit with at lunch but still feel depressed and lonely.
The sadness question, likewise, does not account for unfortunate circumstances, such as an unexpected death in the family or sudden financial instability when a parent loses his or her job. A student can have one terrible month filled with sadness and have an amazing next month, so that student’s answers on the survey will be completely different for those months.
Many of the questions in the Coalition Checklist lack in asking specific questions and over-generalize issues. The only way these questions can be acceptable is if the answer options change.
Currently, the check’s answer choices do not allow for student expression or get accurate results. Most of the questions in the checklist have the options: never, sometimes, often or always. These response choices do not allow students to explain their mental health accurately. For example, one question asks, “I have a hard time asking for help.” Depending on what type of help the survey is referring to, the answer can easily sway from always to never. A student may have an easy time asking his or her English teacher for personal advice but may be too afraid to approach his or her math teacher for a simple homework question. The fact that students cannot give context to their answers makes their responses too subjective.
There are, however, other factors of the questionnaire that prove useful as CPS and Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition, the organization that created the survey, intended. If principals see a student with alarming answers, they will ask that student to go to the counseling office and have a follow up discussion in person with a counselor about his or her answers. This way, students who do need help and answer honestly in the survey will receive the support they need.
Additionally, an online survey is the easiest forum to quickly assess all students across the district and ensures every student has at least had the opportunity to ask for help.
Yet, both of these perks do not overcome their drawbacks; students cannot articulate their specific concerns or hardships if only given too generalized questions and poor answer choices to choose from.
Even if it’s not the best survey now, CPS and the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition should update the survey and continue its use, as mental health surveys in other schools have results promoting the benefit of the questionnaires. Burbank Unified School District in Burbank, California, distributes a similar mental health checklist. The Hanover Research company collected and published data from the 2017-2018 school year answers to the checklist.
According to the company’s report, two-thirds of students said they were “unlikely to seek mental or social economic support from school staff.” The results show a majority of adolescents may feel uncomfortable or not confident in seeking help from staff members. Continuing the Coalition Checklist at CPS or elsewhere as an option for students to voice their struggles if they feel apprehensive of approaching school staff is imperative.
Though it’s impossible to stop students from lying or not taking mental wellness seriously, it would be in the best interest of teens to create a more comprehensive and explicit survey to better gather information on and assist student well-being. The Coalition Checklist as it is does not satisfy its purpose; the questions must be more direct and detailed and the answers must allow for more student expression. After making these changes, the checklist would better benefit students.
Until then, students should still take the checklist as seriously as possible, answering honestly on all questions. If a student does need help with his or her mental health, he or she should talk to an adult or friend.
Is the Coalition Checklist an effective way of checking the mental health of students?
What are your thoughts on the Mental Health Checklist? Let us know in the comments below.