The perception that “everybody does it” has taken another hit.
A regional drug use survey, taken on an anonymous and voluntary basis by high school students last year, has yielded some valuable insights on the issue, according to the Brockton Area Opioid Prevention Coalition.
Specific results of the survey were released only to School Committee members and Whitman-Hanson Regional School District administrators, but general information and the types of questions asked were discussed with the Committee during its Wednesday, Nov. 9 meeting at which the panel voted to expand a drug use survey to grade eight.
“We thought it was important for you to hear the results this evening, how we plan to move forward and the opportunity to give a similar survey to the eighth grade,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ruth Gilbert-Whitner said.
Coalition members Hillary Dubois of the High Point Treatment Center and Ed Jacobs from the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office presented the survey findings. Whitman-Hanson WILL is also a member group of that coalition, whose work is funded by three regional grants.
“We want to take the limited resources that we have and focus them in the right place,” Jacobs said. “There’s a certain percentage of students who will say, ‘Yes, I’ve used over the past 30 days,’ but when you ask about their perception of do their fellow students use, that’s a far greater number.”
It’s also an incorrect perception, according to the data, which can encourage kids to avoid drugs or alcohol by showing them they are not alone.
“The actual number [of students who admit to drug use] is very small, which is good,” Jacobs said. “But the perception is ‘everybody’s doing it,’ or the majority is doing it … and that, we don’t think is necessarily the reality.”
But Dubois cautioned against complacency, saying that perception could lead to “peer-driven self internal pressure” for kids.
“When a young person is, for example, offered a prescription narcotic pain killer, if they have the belief that the majority of their peers are using it as well, they might be more inclined to try it,” she said.
In W-H, 998 high school students took part after the School Committee approved the survey last year. In Brockton High School 1,627, another 666 in Rockland High School and Middle School and 587 in East Bridgewater Jr./Sr. High School also participated.
“More so than any other district, you have a bunch of civil libertarians here at W-H who chose to not answer questions or take surveys or draw pictures,” Dubois said, noting a few may have declined to answer questions of their own potential drug or alcohol use.
Jacobs and Dubois argued that, by expanding the survey to grade eight gives a wider window for data collection so the coalition can determine if progress is being made or greater prevention methods are needed.
“We base our strategies off of an assessment that we complete in each of the individual communities as well as in the region,” Dubois said. “We use the information that comes from the survey to help inform what our next steps are in terms of working with the communities.”
That work will encompass the youth voice and perspective gleaned from the survey. Dubois said the current data would be shared with Whitman-Hanson WILL and the local Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter. The survey results can also help make the argument for additional grant money in the future if problems are found.
“Rarely do we ask the kids who are most impacted by this. — What their feedback is, what their thought is, what they think speaks to their peers and … what speaks to the adults in their lives,” she said.
The School Committee also reviewed results of the spring assessment exams.
“Statewide assessments have changed and varied over the years,” Gilbert-Whitner said, noting that last spring it was a combination of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and MCAS exams.
Curriculum directors Brian Selig, Amy Hill and Mark Stephansky joined Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Ellen Stockdale in reviewing this spring’s scores and changes being made to prepare teachers and students alike for evolving tests.
Currently, because of the changes in the testing systems, Stockdale said the most consistent data is available from the high school MCAS scores.
In math, W-H performs at or better than the state average, Selig said, noting that test changes ahead will move to questions with more than one answer than the traditional multiple-choice questions featured on the MCAS exams.
English Language Arts, in which W-H students were 95-percent proficient or advanced, will also see more thought-provoking questions on future exams, Hill said.
“If we are teaching to our standards, if we are sticking to our standards, we will be OK,” she said, noting that sparking a love of reading is critical.
“They give children opportunities to see different types of texts at their level with high interest, so they keep them engaged,” Stockdale said of W-H teachers.
In science, which has never been featured in a PARCC test, Stephansky said 81 percent of W-H students scored proficient/advanced on the freshman biology MCAS compared to a 75 percent state average. Future exams, adapted from the federal standards in January, will demand new training of teachers, but there will little change this spring.
Taking it slow
Another challenge with online testing will be training tech-savvy kids to click slower on computerized exams, all the educators agreed.
The so-called Next-Generation MCAS, a hybrid of the two tests is the direction Massachusetts has decided to take in the future.
“What we really need in order to educate our children is a really solid, well-aligned curriculum with very highly effective teachers,” Stockdale said, adding the district’s teachers meet that description.
Schools are ranked on the basis of assessments according to a district’s lowest-performing school. W-H is at Level 2 — on a 1 to 5 scale with Level 5 being the worst.
“There are no Pre-K to 12 districts in Massachusetts classified as Level 1,” Stockdale said.