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Survey FAQs

Why should valuable instruction time be used to administer the CalSCHLS surveys?

See the Survey Administration or the special features and benefits of the CalSCHLS surveys.

  • CalSCHLS content is aligned with state LCAP requirements: school climate, pupil engagement, and parent involvement.
  • CalSCHLS surveys assess school climate and student well-being that are linked positively to student academic performance.
  • CalSCHLS is an easy-to-use, time-efficient, and cost-effective method for collecting data schools need, with customizable surveys.
  • The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) can be used to engage learning and reduce barriers to student social-emotional and physical health. This improves school attendance, increasing ADA funding.
  • The Staff Survey provides important information about teacher job satisfaction and retention.
  • The Parent Survey provides data about parent involvement and can increase positive staff-parent relationships.
  • Conducting all three surveys provides a comprehensive picture.

How long does it take to complete the survey?

One class period is needed to take the survey. The average student can complete the online Core Module in 15 minutes or less. Ninety-five percent of students complete the online Core Module in 30 minutes or less. See Survey Completion Time for more details about student, staff, and parent survey completion times.

What are the survey requirements?

CalSCHLS participation is voluntary except for districts that receive Tobacco Use and Prevention Education (TUPE) grants. Please refer to the CalSCHLS Toolbox for more information.

What grades should be surveyed?

Many districts administer the CHKS in all grades (3-12) to assess needs and competencies among all their students and to obtain the necessary information to target programs and practices in the grades in which they are most needed. The California Department of Education (CDE) requires that the CHKS be administered minimally in grades 7 and 9, but recommends that the survey also be administered in grades 5 and 11 as well as to students in continuation high schools. These grades are targeted for several reasons:

  • The CHKS targets every other grade in order to help reduce costs and disruptions, and to provide convenient developmental benchmarks.
  • Grades 5 and 7 are natural baselines to determine early prevention needs and to make comparisons with teenage populations. Levels of risk behaviors are generally low at these grades, making it possible to identify the age of initiation. Prior to grade 5, youth are too young to provide a reliable survey self-report.
  • The CHKS targets major transition years in the developmental lives of adolescents that have been correlated with risk behavior. Grade 7 (approximately age 12) is generally the beginning of secondary school and is the last preteen year. Grade 9 (age 14) is typically the first year of senior high school, and is a time when alcohol and other drug use, other risk behaviors, and disengagement from school and learning can increase to substantial levels.
  • Assessments in grade 11 are one last opportunity to determine what interventions can prevent students from dropping out and engaging in high-risk behaviors. Major withdrawal occurs before the beginning of Grade 12. Research also shows that virtually all students initiating AOD use in secondary school will have done so by the end of 11th grade.
  • All staff and parents should be included if the CSSS and CSPS are being offered. For the CHKS, it is important that schools collect grade-level data (rather than use a general high-school sample) in order to detect age-related differences and target programs in the grades in which they will be most effective. Understanding developmental differences is critical to implementing better programs with better outcomes.

Can I administer the surveys, or parts of them, on my own?

No. CalSCHLS is copyright protected, and reproduction and use without the California Department of Education’s permission is prohibited. To preserve the purpose of CalSCHLS, CDE requires that the survey be administered, processed, and aggregated through the state-sponsored system operated by WestEd.

CDE and its partners fund the CalSCHLS system not only because it is important that Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) have their own data, but also because it is important to have a dataset of representative, comparable results across LEAs.

  • County and state agencies need access to data across districts to guide programmatic decision making. Analysis of the statewide dataset has significantly increased knowledge about the needs of students, staff, and parents, and how well those needs are being met. This is particularly the case in regard to high-risk youth and population subgroups that are too small at the individual district level to assess, such as youth in foster care or the homeless.
  • Parents need common data across schools and districts to help make informed decisions about which school they want their children to attend.

Any use of survey questions without CDE permission violates its copyright.

How do I know if my results are representative?

A high rate of survey participation helps ensure representative data. Survey Administration provides strategies to maximize participation for each survey.

The following minimum standards were adopted to help you determine if your CHKS data are representative and valid. Districts that ultimately meet all three standards will be considered by CDE as having collected representative data.

  1. 100% of all district schools participated; or 100% of all selected schools participated in an approved sampling plan.
  2. An appropriate class subject or class period was identified and used for survey administration.
  3. The number of completed, usable answer forms or online responses obtained per grade was 70% or more of the selected sample.

Districts can consider their results borderline if they fall short of the standard by no more than 10 percentage points. For example, a district would be considered borderline if only 60% of responses for 7th grade students were received, or only 90% of the selected schools in the district participated in the survey.

Please note that although you may meet all of CDE’s standards, your data may not be representative enough to constitute a high-quality sample. Response rates of 80% or more are strongly recommended in order to obtain valid, representative data.

To encourage and obtain a high level of survey participation by students, staff, and parents:

  • Plan well in advance.
  • Communicate that the surveys are a tool to promote student achievement and well-being.
  • Emphasize to participants that the surveys are an opportunity to voice their opinions and help improve schools.
  • Involve stakeholders in discussions about the results and implementation. Follow through on recommended actions so they know their input is being used.

Will CHKS results validly reflect what is really happening with our students?

Research has provided strong evidence that data from adolescents on self-report questionnaires are valid, providing the sample is representative and certain criteria are met. Among those criteria, anonymity has been shown to make a critical contribution in securing valid responses from adolescents on self-report surveys like the CHKS. The CHKS uses validity criteria such as alternate forms of questions and cross-checks to assess how truthful each respondent has been and eliminate any answer forms that may be questionable. For more information about validity issues on self-report surveys, read The Validity of Student Self-Reports of Risk Behaviors

Is active or passive parental consent required for the CHKS?

State law requires the parents, at a minimum, be notified of a CHKS administration and be offered the opportunity to grant or withhold consent. There are two kinds of parental consent: passive and active. Details for implementing consent procedures are contained in Survey Administration.

  • Active Consent requires that a parent or legal guardian has expressly provided written permission for their child to participate in the CHKS. If a permission form is not returned, the school or district must assume that parental permission has not been granted. State laws require that Active Consent be used for all administrations of the CHKS in grades below 7th.
  • Passive Consent is a written notice sent to a parent or legal guardian about the survey, who in turn notifies the school ONLY if they do not want their child to participate in the survey. A no-return from the parent or guardian allows a child to be surveyed. Passive Consent must be used in grades 7-12 (unless survey content and administration has been customized in ways that trigger Active Consent.)

How will the results be reported?

District Reports. A participating Local Educational Agency (LEA) receives district-level Main Report(s) aggregating results across schools within eight weeks of receipt of all completed questionnaires. Reports are by grade for students and school-type for staff and parents. Student survey (CHKS) and staff survey (CSSS) reports are publicly posted on the CalSCHLS website in November of the year following survey administration, to give districts ample time to review and disseminate the data. Parent survey (CSPS) results are not posted publicly.

School Reports. Districts, or an individual school, can order (at extra cost) School-Level Reports, which provide the same level of detail as the Main Report but for individual schools, or a School Climate Report Card that graphically illustrates key findings. School-Level results are not publicly posted on the website.

County and State Reports. Every two years, the results of the Biennial State CHKS are posted and if funding is available, CalSCHLS produces and publicly posts an aggregated CHKS report of results for every county.

Datasets. Complete raw data sets can be requested for analysis but only after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed with the CDE, requiring agreement to conditions assuring that student and school confidentiality are met.

Data Dashboard. The aggregate district-level results are updated annually and posted on the CalSCHLS website. The Data Dashboard is publicly available.

Should we request individual school reports?

The focus of CalSCHLS is to provide representative, district-level data and reports. However, almost all districts survey all students in all schools, making them eligible for school-level reports as well (extra fee applies). The majority of districts do request individual school reports or School Climate Report Cards, recognizing the importance of identifying what differences might exist among their schools and providing the schools with their own data to guide improvement efforts. This is especially true if the schools within a district differ markedly in demographics, other characteristics, or programs. School-level staff and parent reports can also be produced if the samples meet minimum size requirements.

Sometimes schools have concerns about being compared. To address these concerns, emphasize:

  • You conduct the survey to identify needs that the district can help address, not to identify specific problems in specific schools for purposes of accountability.
  • The survey results will provide guidance for improving education and health programs.
  • Results often highlight successes. The CHKS is called "Healthy Kids" precisely to highlight a positive message, rather than focus on problems or bad behavior.
  • Specific differences that are discovered are important to more effectively allocate resources and develop programs that target the unique needs of each school.

If you are interested in obtaining school reports, be sure to inform your CalSCHLS Technical Advisor during the initial planning process to ensure that you do obtain representative data from all your schools.

Who can access results and how will they be kept confidential?

District Main Reports for the student and staff surveys are publicly posted on the CalSCHLS website, but not until the school year following their being sent to the district. Parent survey results and school reports are not publicly posted. Results of the surveys are subject to the California Public Records Act and may be available to the public (if requested). All external requests for data will be referred back to the designated district, county, or organizational contact person.

The aggregated state-level dataset will be available to the public and research agencies for analyses under strict conditions of confidentiality. No school identification information will be included in a dataset unless a Memorandum of Understanding is signed with the CDE that the results of any analyses will not be released in any way that will enable a school to be identified without district approval.

CalSCHLS staff take the utmost care to ensure that participant confidentiality is maintained at all times, even in the smallest Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and schools. To protect confidentiality, no data from any school level will be released if there are fewer than ten student respondents to the survey. In addition, CHKS reports do not provide student demographic information in cases where there are between 11 and 24 students. Although it is highly unlikely, even when these precautions and strict standards are in place, it is possible that analysis of the results might enable someone to deduce the identity of a respondent or group of respondents.

CDE advises that very small districts, where the student sample may be too small to generate reports and preserve confidentiality, work with their County Office of Education (COE) to administer the survey as part of a consortium of small LEAs. The results can be reported on a consortium-wide or county-wide basis. While reporting results aggregated at a higher level may be less meaningful for the district and the public, it may be necessary in order to maintain the confidentiality of the respondents.

Are the rights of students, staff, and parents protected?

Yes. Absolutely. Special attention has been paid to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of the data, and to protect the rights of stakeholders and survey participants.

  • The surveys are in full compliance with all state (California) and federal regulations.
  • The surveys are anonymous and confidential. Reporting procedures assure no person can be linked to his/her answers.
  • Parental consent must be obtained for student participation. Active (written) Consent of a parent or guardian is required for students to participant in the CHKS in grades below 7; Passive Consent is required for grades 7 and above.
  • Participation is totally voluntary. No student in the selected classroom is required to take the survey. Even if a parent consents, the student may still refuse to participate. In addition, respondents do not have to answer every question once they begin the survey.
  • In California, the Protection of Pupil Rights Act (PPRA) requires Local Education Agencies to establish procedures to notify parents of their right to inspect the CHKS, and grant access to the CHKS within a reasonable time after the request is received.

Will the surveys generate controversy?

Some people may have concerns that questions or results will be controversial, including reflecting poorly on students or the schools. The CHKS Guidebook: Data Use and Dissemination (VIII. Reporting and Disseminating Results) discusses how to address these concerns.

Emphasize the benefits of the data. Communicate that the purpose of the survey is to identify the needs of students, staff, and parents so that you can develop programs, policies, and practices to address those needs, improve schools, and ensure that all students thrive and succeed in school, career, and life. Other messages to stress are:

  • The CHKS results reflect the combined influence of media, parents, community organizations, and peers, as well as schools, on students.
  • The survey results will provide guidance for improving programs and services to help the schools strengthen programs and supports for students, staff, and parents.
  • Results often highlight successes. The student survey is called "Healthy Kids" precisely to highlight a positive message, rather than focus on problems or bad behavior.

Can the CHKS be used as an evaluation tool of school programs?

The CHKS is not a complete evaluation tool in itself, but it can be a valuable component of an overall evaluation strategy of school improvement efforts and programs. This will likely require a modification of the sampling plan and the addition of program-specific questions in a custom module. Local Education Agencies should consult an evaluator to determine program data needs and how CalSCHLS can assist in meeting them. CalSCHLS staff will then help develop the sampling plan. The CalSCHLS staff can also provide evaluation assistance as a separate, custom service. It is also important to conduct the staff survey along with the CHKS because it contains numerous questions about programs and policies.

What will be the cost to my district?

CalSCHLS is an easy to administer, low cost data collection system. However, by necessity, some local-site functions must be conducted by district and school staff, such as survey planning, parent consent, and administration. In California, the system is financially supported and local costs subsidized by the CDE. However, because these funds are limited and need to be distributed equitably, each Local Education Agency also must be responsible for a set-up fee and the per-student cost for processing and reporting the data, as well as any custom requests beyond conducting the basic surveys. Administering the CHKS online to students significantly reduces the local labor involved, and shortens the time it takes students to complete the survey. For information about the costs of conducting the CalSCHLS surveys, download the Fee Schedule.

Can I track online survey participation in real time?

Yes. Coordinators can track the number of completed staff and student surveys by school, but cannot view results. To access this survey completion information, please go to If you have not yet created a password, click on the "forgot my password" link. Otherwise, log in using the password created at the start of your administration, via the link sent with your survey instructions.

How do I create a custom module?

One of the benefits of the CalSCHLS system is that it is not just a collection of stand-alone surveys. It is a data collection system that can be customized by combining existing supplementary modules and creating custom modules of questions of the district/school’s own choosing. To create a custom module, contact your regional center and complete the following:

  1. Sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
  2. Complete the registration form.
  3. Via email, return the registration form along with a copy of your questions or module selections, including specific instructions regarding which districts/grade levels should administer which modules.