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State Survey Shows Iowa Students Perceive Emotional Safety, Peer Relationships Negatively

Doc Searls
A survey of Iowa public school students shows mostly negative perceptions of emotional safety and peer relationships.

A surveyby the Iowa Department of Education of public schools across state shows students have a mostly negative view of their emotional well-being in class. The results are part of a broaderschool performance assessmentreleased this week.

In a survey administered by the DOE, Iowa students gave positive responses on their emotional safety just 37 percent of the time, on average. For student to student relationships, 38 percent of responses were positive. That’s based on dozens of questions put to 5th through 12th graders across the state, on issues like whether they've experienced bullying, if there is an adult at school they can trust, and how administrators handle discipline and communicate with families.

Learner Strategies and Supports Bureau Chief Brad Niebling says the department wants a broader view of students' well-being, not just their academic performance.

“We need to be thinking about the whole child, not just the academic part of their experience," he said. "So by including student voice and looking at their conditions around them for learning it just adds a new dimension to all this work.”

In the conditions of learning survey, students rated their emotional well-being and peer relationships as the most negative, and rated other factors like physical safety, student-to-adult relationships and expectations and boundaries more positively. Results varied based on race and ethnicity, English proficiency and wealth.

Department spokeswoman Staci Hupp says she hopes teachers and administrators will be able to apply the findings to better understand how students' perceptions may impact their learning.

"It could help a school identify secondary contributers to poor academic results. For example, a school could really learn a lot from knowing that a large number of students are unable to identify an adult they can connect with," Hupp said.

The department considers the findings a "baseline" for schools, as the state is not currently setting benchmarks for conditions of learning in the same way goals are set for academic performance. In the coming months, department staffers plan to train administrators on how to best interpret and apply the findings for their students.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter