Overview of State’s Withdrawal from Survey
For more than 30 years, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) provided unique and critical data that guided public health approaches to protecting and promoting the physical and mental well-being of Florida’s young people. However, on April 29, 2022, the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) informed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that it was withdrawing from this survey. All of this was done without public or legislative input. The withdrawal was puzzling, as there had been no previously reported complaints according to then-interim Education Commissioner Jacob Oliva.
At the state and school district levels, the YRBS was crucial because it helped monitor and address the rising mental health, substance use, and physical health problems experienced by Florida’s adolescents and young adults. Others used the data to attract research and programmatic funding to support the well-being of Florida’s youth.
For the six Florida school districts that had separate grants with the CDC in which they administer the YRBS in order to secure funding for prevention services, the Florida Education Commissioner notified school superintendents that the state had withdrawn from the survey and that there were “grave concerns” about the survey’s “inflammatory and sexualized” content.
At the state and school district levels, the YRBS was crucial because it helped monitor and address the rising mental health, substance use, and physical health problems experienced by Florida’s adolescents and young adults.
In May 2022, Florida Policy Institute (FPI) and its partners crafted a letter calling on the FLDOE to reverse this course of action and resume participation in the YRBS. However, the letter, which included a meeting request, was never acknowledged directly. Shortly thereafter, the department announced there would be a Florida specific measure developed and implemented in 2023, superseding and replacing the implementation period of the YRBS. This measure, the Florida-Specific Youth Survey (FSYS), was developed between September 2022, when workgroup members were solicited, and April 2023, when districts were alerted to the pending administration of the FSYS. Results are expected to be published this summer.
YRBS, Unlike New Florida Survey, is a Trusted Source of Data
In the letter to the FLDOE sent over a year ago, FPI and others raised the points below.
The YRBS allows trend analysis of youth risk behaviors.
This data has been collected since 1991, and it allows schools and public health officials to make informed decisions about implementing prevention and intervention services to improve the well-being of Florida’s youth. The FSYS does not allow for continued longitudinal understanding of whether Florida’s students are engaging in fewer or more risk behaviors that need to be addressed. It hinders the assessment of the impact of recent legislation such as House Bill (HB) 1557 and HB 1069, which were signed into law in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
The YRBS allows examination of the well-being of sub-groups of Florida students including students who identify as LGBTQ.
The FYSY allows for analysis of data by gender and race/ethnicity only.
The YRBS includes questions about risk behaviors pertaining to mental health, substance use, physical well-being, and nutrition, as well as sexual behaviors.
The FSYS primarily focuses on resilience standards adopted by the State Board of Education earlier in 2023 that address character, personal responsibility, mentorship and citizenship, as well as critical thinking and problem solving. Of the 223 questions in the FSYS, only 54 pertain to risk behaviors and the wording of those questions does not match the wording used in the YRBS; therefore, they cannot be directly compared.
The FSYS does not allow for continued longitudinal understanding of whether Florida’s students are engaging in fewer or more risk behaviors that need to be addressed.
Furthermore, questions on sexual behaviors are minimized, relating to awareness of things such as the “consequences of pregnancy” and “benefits of abstinence.” Similarly, questions related to symptoms of mental distress are not as extensive as those included in the YRBS and primarily focus on the young person’s ability to recognize symptoms of anxiety and depression. The significance of knowing the prevalence of these symptoms and behaviors, as opposed to a young person’s awareness of these illnesses, is that prevention programs and intervention programs can be designed and implemented to address them. Assessing the student’s knowledge and awareness severely limits proactive public health approaches.
The YRBS is reliable and valid.
The YRBS took over a year to fully test for its reliability and validity and has continually been revised, tested, updated, and refined to ensure soundness over a 30-year period. The FSYS was developed, implemented, and administered in less than six months.
The issues raised by the signatories of the letter asking for reinstatement of the YRBS are even more pressing today. Unfortunately, there is an enormous knowledge gap when it comes to how to address the current needs of Florida’s youth due to the state’s withdrawal from the survey. For the six school districts mentioned above, there is an additional gap in the resources available to support the healthy development of their students.
What Can be Done?
There are steps that policymakers and other stakeholders can take to ensure that reliable data on risk behavior is being measured:
- Continue education and awareness about the state’s withdrawal from the YRBS. Many stakeholders do not know about the withdrawal. Those that do, may not understand that the withdrawal could hamper the state's ability to formulate sound public health policy for young people. It may also mean that resources, whether grant funding or clinical resources for young people, are lost as well.
- Reinstate the YRBS in 2025. Indeed, there would be a gap in the data, but overall, the continuity of important data would be preserved.
- Failing reinstatement, look for other ways of readministering the YRBS that does not rely on schools.