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Administration Guide 2018-19

Contents / List of Tasks

Survey Administration Guide

The CalSCHLS system is focused primarily on providing representative district-level data. This guide is designed to help the District Coordinator who will be responsible for planning and administering the CalSCHLS at all participating schools. However, the tasks are equally applicable to individual schools or other entities administering the survey. County agencies coordinating survey administration across districts should identify a County Coordinator and determine how survey responsibilities will be split between the county and district coordinators.

This step-by-step guide describes the tasks that need to be performed to administer the CalSCHLS surveys and offers strategies to help districts so that survey administration will be efficient and problem-free. CDE strongly recommends that districts conduct all three surveys to have a comprehensive set of comparable data from and about all three stakeholder groups — students, staff, and parents — to guide school improvement. Most of the administration tasks need to be performed whether you are conducting one or all three CalSCHLS surveys.

Throughout the process of survey planning and implementation, the staff of the CalSCHLS Regional Centers are available to help you (see Task 3).


Identify a District and/or County Coordinator who will be responsible for planning and administering the CalSCHLS at all participating schools in a district. It is essential for the Coordinator to regularly monitor and make frequent follow-up calls to check on the status of each task at each school — and stay in contact with the CalSCHLS Technical Advisor.


Review the information on, particularly the content of the surveys, survey requirements, and steps for starting survey administration. Many resources are available to help you efficiently and successfully conduct your survey, including:


Contact one of the regional CalSCHLS Technical Advisors to discuss your survey options and begin the planning and scheduling process. Call the toll-free helpline (1-888-841-7536) or email

When you contact your CalSCHLS Technical Advisor, they will send you an MOU (see Task 5) and a registration information, (see Task 11).


In most districts, the surveys will require authorization from the district superintendent and/or the school board. Even if this is not required, keep them informed about the surveys and obtain their support. They often receive calls from parents and reporters and their support can help ensure a high participation rate. A letter of support from the superintendent is useful for obtaining survey buy-in from principals, school staff, and parents. Minimally, they need to know the survey content (especially sensitive questions); procedures for protecting parents’ and pupils’ rights, including parental consent, and the costs to the district. The Frequently Asked Questions will help you respond to likely concerns.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of district policies related to surveys such as the CalSCHLS, including whether you need approval from an Institutional Review Board.


CDE requires that districts administering any one of the CalSCHLS surveys sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines the responsibilities of both the district staff and the CalSCHLS Regional Centers and the conditions that must be met in administering the survey. This is not a commitment to conduct the survey but an agreement to the conditions for moving forward with the planning process. Once you have superintendent/school board approval, consider sending parental consents immediately (see Task 14).


An advisory committee of influential school and community leaders can be a tremendous advantage in planning and conducting the surveys, in identifying local concerns to address, in gaining broad support, and, later, in determining how to address the needs that are identified by the survey results. The best approach is to draw upon an existing group advising on school improvement or student supports. Make sure there is broad representation from stakeholders such as the following:

  • Students, teachers, principals, School Site Council members, and other individuals who will be involved in the survey process.
  • School board members and the district superintendent.
  • Key district administrators, such as the Title I or other categorical program directors, the director of curriculum and instruction, and the director of pupil support.
  • Parents and key religious, medical, and business leaders, law enforcement, and elected public officials.


Each survey has a Core Module of key questions that CDE requires to be administered to have comparable data across districts. CalSCHLS is also a data collection system that can be customized to be responsive to local needs and standards. You can customize your survey by adding supplemental modules or by creating a Custom Module of additional questions of your own choosing.

In planning your surveys and selecting survey modules, work with the advisory committee and superintendent to identify local concerns and issues that need to be taken into consideration and potential data needs and uses. Among the topics you should discuss are:

  • How the data from the surveys can support the district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan.
  • Which surveys to administer (students, staff, parent) and which supplemental modules.
  • What additional custom questions the district may want to add.
  • Whether the district can support online administration of the student survey and whether to conduct the parent survey online or with print forms, or both.
  • Whether you have school-specific data needs and want to have reports for each participating school or School Climate Report Cards.
  • Which grades to survey beyond the minimum CHKS grade requirement.
  • Tentative administration dates.

You don’t have to have immediate answers for every question, issue, or problem surrounding the surveys that emerges.


The staff survey is only conducted online. The student survey may be administered either online or in print. The parent survey is also available in print and online. The following describes the pros and cons of print versus online administration.

Student Survey

Online survey administration involves less district labor and cost, time for students to complete, and time for the CalSCHLS Regional Center to process your data and provide you with a report. Students also prefer it. The print version takes more time to complete because it requires a separate scannable answer form. However, online administration may not be feasible in large districts/schools because of the lack of enough computers in locations that can ensure controlled administration with confidentiality.

Parent Survey

For convenience, a single scannable booklet is used (questions and answers together). Print administration does involve more cost and labor in survey distribution and collection, but some parents don’t have ready online access. One of the virtues of online administration is that parents can take it from any computer, tablet, or smartphone, anywhere. The best option may be to provide parents with paper forms as well as access to the online version.


One of the first survey planning steps is to determine who will be surveyed and to submit to the CalSCHLS Technical Advisor a list of schools with the estimated number of students that will be asked to complete each survey at each school.

Student Survey

Minimally, CDE requires participating districts administer the CHKS in 7th and 9th grade but recommends 5th and 11th as well. Most districts will need to survey all students in each recommended grade in all their schools to have representative district data. Larger districts may request that the Technical Advisor develop a sampling plan. However, sampling is not required and districts may choose to survey all students in the selected grades, particularly if they would like school-level reports. Detailed information regarding selecting the CHKS sample and classrooms is provided.

Staff Survey

All staff within all participating schools should be given the staff survey in order to: (1) have confidence that the results are truly representative or valid of all staff perceptions (not biased); and (2) preserve the confidentiality of those that do complete the survey (e.g., with a very small sample it might be possible to identify the responses of certain teachers). The staff sample should include:

  • All teachers, administrators, and other certificated staff working in each school, including paraprofessionals and aides, regardless of grade.
  • All personnel working in the areas of counseling, health, prevention, and safety.

Staff working at multiple sites should be included in the target sample at all sites. It is up to the individual staff person to decide whether they have enough knowledge/experience at a school to fill out the survey. It may be inappropriate for off-site staff such as bus drivers and district personnel to take the survey, as they are not tied to a specific school site. Contact your Technical Advisor if you have questions about whether to include certain staff in your survey.

Parent Survey

The CSPS should be offered to all parents, guardians, or other caregivers in a school or district. Sampling a smaller population presents technical obstacles, although it can be discussed with Technical Advisors. The survey can be filled out by parents together or just by one of them. If a parent has more than one child at a school site, the parent is instructed to complete only one survey per school, thinking about their oldest child at the school.


Establish a general time period in which you will administer the surveys within the district. Later, work with the School Coordinators to set up specific, convenient dates for each school within that period. Student, staff, and parent surveys don’t have to be administered all on the same days, but they should be administered in close proximity (e.g., within two weeks). This will also help to engender broad awareness of, enthusiasm for, and participation in the surveys across stakeholders. Start by selecting the date(s) for the student survey, as it involves the most planning.

Student Survey

The date selected for the CHKS may affect student participation and survey results in several ways. In general, select dates that do not conflict with other school activities, particularly testing and field trips. Use the following guidelines:

  • Fall Surveys. October through December is a good time because parental consent can be more easily obtained by sending parental consent forms out with registration materials at the beginning of the school year. These are also usually months when you are less likely to conflict with scheduled testing.
  • Spring Surveys. Administer the survey no later than April to avoid busy school schedules, academic testing, and decreased attendance rates, particularly by 12th-grade students at the end of the school year.
  • Holiday Periods. Avoid administration after a long school break — particularly right after the winter holiday — because students may increase their health-risk behaviors during these periods. This particularly may affect 30-day prevalence rates.
  • Special Events. Do not administer the survey during a special event.
  • Poor Attendance Days. Avoid administering the survey on the following days because attendance may be unusually low: any Monday or Friday (especially a Friday before a Monday holiday); the day right before or after spring break; and the last month of school.


After you have developed a preliminary plan for your CalSCHLS administration, request a Survey Registration Form from your CalSCHLS Technical Advisor. This form details your survey plan and specifications. The information required includes:

  • When the survey will be administered.
  • Which surveys (student, staff, parent) and modules you will administer, including a copy of any Custom Module of additional questions.
  • Your student enrollment and sampling plan, by grade, including the number and name/CDS codes of participating schools.
  • Method of administration (online or print).
  • Custom service requests (e.g., additional questions, school-level or disaggregated reports; School Climate Report Cards, datasets, workshops).


Send out letters and information packets to the principals, including the letters of support you obtained from the superintendent and other stakeholders. Meet with all the principals personally to answer their questions and obtain their support. Emphasize how important it is that they strongly communicate the value of the survey(s) and their expectations that teachers will fully support it and comply with all procedures.

For larger districts, have each principal identify one person to serve as the School Coordinator. Even in small districts, it is good to have one person at each school serve as an onsite survey spokesperson and have overall responsibility for survey planning and administration. Give each School Coordinator a copy of the Administration Instructions and Assurance of Confidentiality Agreements and identify a training date. It’s best if the School Coordinators meet for a brief training about their role in the survey, as is discussed under Task 17.


Participation by students, staff, and parents is voluntary. It is very important to encourage high survey participation (response) rates to ensure that the data are representative. Thoroughly inform students, staff, and parents about the survey’s purpose and value well in advance of administration. When you conduct the survey administration training for your school site staff be sure to build enthusiasm for the survey. Among the points to stress are:

  • The value of the survey data for: (1) addressing the needs of students, (2) improving both learning and teaching conditions, (3) addressing LCAP requirements, and (4) improving student engagement, attendance, academic performance, and graduation.
  • The opportunity it provides students, staff, and parents to communicate confidentially their perceptions and concerns about the school and its environment in a neutral context.
  • You will be reporting the results to the school-community and involving them in reviewing the results and programmatic decision-making to address identified needs. Make sure students, staff, and parents all are aware that the school/district will take their data seriously and involve them in the process of identifying and addressing stakeholder needs. This communicates that taking the survey is worth their time.

Here are some general strategies to further help boost awareness, support, and, ultimately, participation:

  • Review the Frequently Asked Questions, which provides answers to typical concerns.
  • Conduct all three surveys around the same time.
  • Use multiple communication venues (newsletters, meetings, telephone messages, etc.)
  • Provide the letter of support from the superintendent or school board.
  • Have the principal encourage participation at staff and parent meetings.
  • Stress assurances of anonymity and confidentiality.
  • Frequently remind them of the survey dates.
  • Make sure you share the survey results with participating groups and involve them in identifying needs and discussing how to meet those needs. Show stakeholders how the data has been previously used to guide decision-making and the improvements that have resulted.
  • While acknowledging that the survey process is challenging, emphasize how measures have been taken to make their tasks as easy as possible, such as model parental consent forms and procedures, detailed instructions, and scripted administration.
  • Send letters thanking the School Coordinator and teachers in advance for their cooperation.

Parent Survey

  • Stress that the survey is designed to get their input into how to improve the school and better meet the needs of their children. Describe it as a parent involvement activity.
  • Make survey completion as easy as possible. Ensuring parent participation is especially challenging. Often this means providing both online and print options. Stress the convenience, simplicity, and brevity of the survey. For printed surveys, send them home with the parental consent forms and include a check-off box on the form indicating that they received it. Give them many options for dropping off completed survey forms.
  • See Tips for Success describing how schools participating in California's Safe and Supportive Schools initiative improved parent survey response rates.


Parents/guardians must be notified in writing about the CHKS and be given a reasonable opportunity to decline their child’s participation. The Parental Consent section provides detailed instructions on how to make this process go smoothly and obtain a high level of consent. For the basic Core CHKS, state regulations require “active” or written consent in 6th grade and lower and “passive” consent in grades 7 through 12. Consider including parental consents with back to school enrollment packages or sending them early in the school year well in advance of the survey.


As a requirement of informed parental consent (whether active or passive) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Act, the CHKS must be conveniently available for parents to review. This also helps allay concerns about the survey content. Similarly posting the staff and parent surveys shows transparency and allows staff and parents to see how the three surveys are related.

The posted surveys must be the actual versions that are being administered by your district, including all the modules that the district has selected and any additional questions that it has included. Post your final survey versions, as provided by your Technical Advisor, on the district website and make a print copy conveniently available at the district office for people who don’t have ready Internet access.


The CalSCHLS Regional Center will send the District Coordinator all survey materials via mail or email for reproduction and distribution to the individual schools.

Student Survey

Online. The materials will include school-specific logins that will need to be distributed to School Coordinators. This document has two blanks for the District Coordinator to fill in with the Coordinator’s contact information and the date(s) of the survey.

Paper. The District Coordinator will receive scannable answer sheets and transmittal envelopes for the number of students requested. It is the district’s responsibility to produce the student surveys.

Staff Survey

Online. The materials will include a master letter (Survey Instructions for Staff) for each participating school containing the school name, a school-specific login, and instructions on how to fill out the survey online. It has two blanks for the District Coordinator to fill in with the Coordinator’s contact information and the date the survey window should open. Copy the letters and distribute one to each staff member at each site (e.g., put them in staff mailboxes or distribute at staff meetings). Staff should follow the instructions and fill out the survey online, from any computer.

Parent Survey

Online. The materials will include a school-specific website addres (URL), which will need to be given to School Coordinators for distribution to parents. If you only are doing an online survey, administration consists of getting the survey website address to all parents and notification of the dates when they can take the survey. Several strategies exist to accomplish this, including multiple direct mailings (a postcard can often suffice), sending notices home with children, posting notices at the school, through the school newsletter, announcements and handouts at public meetings, and telephone messages.

Paper. Administration of the paper survey is more challenging, because forms must get out to the parents, as well as back to the school or district. Use multiple distribution strategies to get surveys to parents. Some tested strategies are:

  • Direct mailings.
  • Assign someone, perhaps a parent volunteer, to hand out surveys during school drop-off and pick-up.
  • Send home with the student along with the active parental consent form.
  • Pass surveys out during parent meetings or other school events.


The School Coordinators, participating classroom teachers, and CHKS proctors must thoroughly understand the tasks for which they are responsible. The best way to ensure this is through training and fostering their enthusiastic support. The Administration Instructions and Assurance of Confidentiality Agreements describe the specific tasks that each group (coordinators, teachers, proctors) needs to perform.

Everyone can be trained at once, or you can train groups at different times. For large districts, you may want to train only the School Coordinators—and have them hold training meetings with the teachers and proctors at their individual schools. Make sure the instructions and materials are distributed well in advance of the training so staff have time to review them. This will reduce the time needed for training.

School Coordinators

Ideally, training for School Coordinators should occur early, certainly prior to the beginning of the parental consent process. This should be a general training touching upon all aspects of the survey, but focusing on the responsibilities detailed in the Administration Instructions and Assurance of Confidentiality Agreements. Consider giving school coordinators, a copy of Task 21, which outlines what should be completed starting three weeks prior to survey administration. Topics should include:

  • The purpose, value, and requirements of the survey.
  • A description of the parental consent process, highlighting special concerns for the type of parental consent you are using (such as high parental consent rates for active and the withdrawal process for passive.
  • The importance of maintaining standard survey administration procedures.
  • Ways to motivate and monitor teachers.
  • Confidentiality and privacy issues.
  • The survey administration window.
  • Their role in documenting school, class, and student participation, including how to fill out the printed survey Transmittal Envelope or online Participation Form.


The teacher training should cover the same areas as that for School Coordinators, although not necessarily with the same focus. What is most important is motivating them to support the CHKS and communicate this enthusiasm to the students. Go over the Teacher Instructions in the Administration Instructions guide with them, emphasizing the important role that teachers play in the parental consent process and in providing correct information on the Transmittal Envelopes (paper surveys) or Participation Form (online administration). Review the proctoring information if teaching staff will proctor the survey.


It is most important that CHKS proctors uniformly follow the procedures as outlined in the Administration Instructions and Assurance of Confidentiality Agreements. If proctors are not fully informed and prepared, students may not take the survey seriously, may incorrectly fill out the answer forms, or may not be able to complete the survey within the period. Review the following topics:

  • Room setup.
  • Confidentiality and privacy issues, including what to do with the Assurance of Confidentiality Agreement.
  • Where students can go if they have questions or concerns arising from survey participation.
  • The survey administration schedule.
  • How to present and administer the online and/or print survey to students, including the importance of reading the Introductory Script.


All staff involved in administering the survey must sign the Assurance of Confidentiality Agreements. Have the School Coordinator ask staff to fill them out during the training sessions. This communicates that the commitment to confidentiality is a serious one and reinforces the survey administrator’s obligation to protect student privacy. These assurances can be made available for parents to view along with the survey instrument.


Make arrangements at the district or, preferably, at each school for someone such as a counselor or health/prevention specialist to be available to students who have questions or concerns as a result of their participation in the survey. Be sure your staff know who this person is and the procedures for referring students. This is one of the necessary procedures to reduce any potential risks to students from taking the survey, as stated in the parental consent form.


Regardless of what survey administration method is selected, the conditions under which the survey is administered must preserve respondent privacy and the confidentiality of the responses. If administered to multiple people in large rooms, ensure that the set-up prevents anyone from observing how the respondent is answering the question. This is particularly a concern when using large-screen monitors in conducting the student survey online.


About three weeks prior to scheduled survey administration, start checking with each School Coordinator:

  • Confirm the time and place of the survey administration.
  • Confirm the classes to be surveyed.
  • Review the procedures that will occur during administration.
  • Check the status of the parental consent process.
  • Follow-up with a printed reminder to all School Coordinators and teachers.

One week before the survey, contact each School Coordinator and ensure that, based on the consent process, it is likely that the school will achieve a 70% student participation (response) rate — or whether you need to postpone the administration.

Two or three days before the survey, review with the School Coordinator and, if possible, the proctors themselves, the procedures for the survey day at the school, including room setup, and arrangements for students who do not have parental consent and are not taking the survey. Make sure that each School Coordinator has contacted the proctors and distributed the needed survey materials to each classroom. These materials include:

  • For online surveys, login and passwords specific to each school site which are sent to you by your Technical Advisors
  • For paper surveys, answer sheets, and Transmittal Envelopes
  • For parental consent, a list of students whose parents denied participation
  • Administrative Instructions and Assurance of Confidentiality Agreement, which includes teacher/proctor instructions and a survey administration introductory script

Make sure the arrangements for students to take the survey ensure confidentiality:

  • For online surveys, arrange the room so that no one else but the student can see the answers on the computer monitor.
  • For paper surveys, arrange the room so that no one else but the student can see the answers on the answer sheets.

One day before the survey, re-contact each School Coordinator to see if they need any help and remind them to contact you if any problems materialize on the day of the survey. Make sure that the Assurances of Confidentiality have been signed.

The day of the survey, conduct the survey.

The day after the survey, remind the School Coordinators to immediately send to you all complete answer sheets in their Transmittal Envelopes.


Monitoring survey completion is also very important so you can determine if problems have occurred that need to be addressed.

Online Monitoring

One of the advantages of the online survey is that the District Coordinator can view how many surveys have been completed. Survey completion may be viewed at the district level with all schools combined, by school type, and by individual school. If participation appears low, it may help to distribute a reminder and have the principal again reiterate his or her support for the survey. The assigned District Coordinator may monitor online response rates. Online response rate monitoring is not available to school-level staff or administrators.

If respondents are having trouble taking the online survey, have them check the following:

  • Is the complete web address entered correctly?
  • Does the survey welcome page show the correct name of the school?
  • Was www incorrectly put into the address?
  • Is the address correctly entered into the URL bar and NOT the "search" bar (e.g., Google)?

Contact your Technical Advisor if the problem cannot be resolved (888-841-7536).

Staff Survey

For the staff survey, another option for school-based monitoring is to ask each staff person to print out the last page of the online survey, where he/she logs out of the system, and return it to the School Coordinator as proof of participation. (This page does not contain any answers or identifying information.) Since anonymity and confidentiality is of major importance, if this option is used, staff should be given the opportunity to return this page to a site-level Coordinator in a way to preserve privacy. Having staff appoint a trusted colleague to collect this information may be a workable solution.

Parent Survey

Ensuring high parent participation is especially challenging. Strategies to increase the response rate include multiple mailings and reminders, and making participation convenient. For parents who are completing the paper version of the survey, it is important to give them multiple options to return the completed booklets.

  • Use a postage-paid return envelope for surveys you mail out.
  • Consider assigning someone, perhaps a parent volunteer, to collect surveys during school drop-off and pick-up.
  • Send to school with the student in a sealed envelope.
  • Provide a drop-off box.


For Paper Surveys: Have each School Coordinator collect all answer sheets from students and parents/guardians and send to you for mailing to your CalSCHLS Regional Center. Student answer sheets should be placed in Transmittal Envelopes (provided) immediately after students completed the survey. The CalSCHLS Regional Center will process the paper answer sheets and combine the results with any online surveys. For parent survey booklets, remove any additional district or site cover sheets that might have been used, sort by site and language, and then return all the completed surveys for the entire district to your CalSCHLS Regional Center using a trackable shipping method.

For Online Surveys: Email your CalSCHLS Technical Advisor as soon as possible after all sites have completed the survey. The CalSCHLS Regional Center will begin data analysis and report production once notified that survey administration is complete.


Work with your Superintendent and Advisory Committee to develop a plan for disseminating the district or school results to students, staff, parents, and other community stakeholders. Strategies are discussed in the CHKS Guide to Data Use and Dissemination. It is essential that you share the data with stakeholders and engage them in the process of reviewing the results, determining needs, and developing plans for meeting those needs. This could include holding focus groups, employing school newspaper journalists to do follow-up articles, or via student council or other student-staff-parent discussion groups. Discussing the results is a great way to ensure that all members of the school community have an active say and ownership in the school, its policies, and activities — and to ensure their commitment to the survey the next time you conduct it.

Selecting the Student Sample

A Technical Advisor will help you determine your specific sample requirements. To receive the CDE subsidized cost, as shown on the fee schedule, the district must minimally administer the CHKS Core Module to representative samples of students in grades seven and nine every two years. However, CDE recommends that you also survey grades 5 and 11, so that you have data from every other grade level, as well as nontraditional continuation schools. (Information about non-traditional schools is found at the end of this section.)

School and Classroom Sampling Procedures

Most districts will need to survey all students in each selected grade in all their schools. Larger districts may request that a Technical Advisor develop a sampling plan; however, sampling is not required and districts may choose to survey all students in the selected grades, particularly if they would like individual school-level reports.

CDE has established the following sampling criteria:

  • Number of schools. If a district has 10 or fewer schools at a surveyed grade level, all schools must be surveyed. A random sample of schools can be selected for districts with more than 10 schools with the grades involved AND more than 900 students per grade.
  • Number of students. If a district has 900 or fewer regular students enrolled per grade level, all students must be surveyed, regardless of the number of schools. (Note: This is total enrollment, not the number who consented to the survey.) If grade-level enrollment is more than 900, the district may choose to randomly sample students and schools. Technical Advisors will randomly select classrooms across all schools to reach the target sample of 900. However, we recommend that sampling be done only if the district has 1,600 or more students per grade. Enrollments below 1,600 tend to leave out just a few classes per school, which could lead to possible resentment on the part of teachers and/or inability to easily schedule a “grade-wide” survey day. Many large districts find it is more convenient to still survey all the students in the selected schools, especially if they may want school-specific data.

These cutoff numbers were selected to balance logistical efficiency with adequate precision of results (i.e., provide valid, representative data). Meeting the minimum sample requirements is absolutely essential for obtaining representative data.

Select Classrooms

In order to ensure representative data, the survey in secondary schools must be administered in a required class attended by all enrolled students in the targeted grade. Experience shows that the best required class subjects are English or Health for 7th and 9th grades, and English or History for 11th grade. In large districts that are sampling, your Technical Advisor will help you randomly select classrooms using the following procedure:

  • The District Coordinator must obtain from each School Coordinator and provide to the Technical Advisors, lists of all grade-level classrooms in each school, with each class numbered and identified by teacher’s last name. This class list can include either the entire school or just the required classes, whichever is most convenient.
  • Technical Advisors will randomly select the classrooms and return the list to the district coordinator.

Determine Additional Sample Needs

These are the minimum requirements. You may decide local needs warrant surveying more grades, students, or schools, particularly if you:

  • Have previously collected data from other grades
  • Have special programs targeting other grades
  • Want to provide schools with their individual survey results (see below)
  • Are incorporating the CHKS into a program evaluation

Obtaining School-level Data

For most districts, the survey plan will result in representative data from all schools. However, large districts may want to expand their sample to allow for representative school-level data and reports. School-level data are especially valuable if schools in a district vary markedly in their student demographics, programs, or services. Generally, this involves including all students in the designated grades in each school. Some stakeholders initially may be wary of schools being compared and stigmatized. A response to this concern is provided in the Frequently Asked Questions.

It is up to the district to request a report on each school before survey administration. There is an additional charge of $75 for each individual school report. CalSCHLS also offers a School Climate Report Card (SCRC) for an additional charge of $75.

Continuation and Other Non-traditional Schools

Surveying continuation and non-traditional schools provides a more comprehensive picture of the needs of all local youth. Since grade designations are not clear in many non-traditional schools, survey all students regardless of age or grade (i.e., 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). All grades 7-12 should be given the high school version of the survey. At the upper-grade level, the results are listed separately in your reports.

Because of the difficulty of surveying and obtaining parental consent in other non-traditional school settings — such as adult education, alternative, county community, juvenile hall, opportunity, and state special schools — their inclusion in the survey is optional.

Parental Consent

Modifiable parental consent letters are available in English and Spanish.

It is critically important that you pay close attention to informing parents about the survey and obtaining and documenting their consent for student participation. State regulations required that parents/guardians be notified in writing about the survey and be given a reasonable opportunity to decline their child’s participation. Carefully track the consent process so that you can identify students whose parents/guardians have declined participation. This will help you avoid surveying a student whose parents have declined participation. Poor attention to this task can also result in low consent and participation rates that can produce incomplete, inaccurate, and biased data.

Type of Consent

State regulations require “active” or written consent in 6th grade and lower and “passive” consent in grades 7 through 12 for the basic CHKS.

  • Passive Parental Consent. Written information about the survey is sent to parents/guardians, who in turn have to notify the school ONLY if they do not want their child to participate in the survey.
  • Active Parental Consent. No child can be surveyed until a parent/guardian has provided written permission. If a permission form is not returned, it must be assumed that parental/guardian permission has not been granted.

Although passive consent is stipulated for secondary schools for the basic survey, active consent must be used under the following circumstances.

  • Questions are added to the survey that elicit reports of parental/guardian attitudes or behaviors or any other category that requires active parental consent under Education Code 51513 and is not exempted under Education Code 51938. This includes questions about the pupil’s parents’ or guardians’ beliefs and practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion.
  • The district is tracking students in any way (i.e., the survey is no longer anonymous, although it is still confidential).

Regardless of type of consent, the Consent Form must contain the following information:

With Active Consent: It is especially important to make sure parents/guardians are informed, feel confident in their child’s participation, and return the form with approval. Otherwise, active consent may result in a lower student response rate and a less representative sample, as many hard-to-reach subgroups may be underrepresented. But it also provides extra protection against surveying a student whose parent/guardian claims not to have received notification, or who did not approve of participation but failed to inform the school. The great majority of parents will approve of participation. The challenge is getting the signed consent forms (whether or not consent is given) returned to the school.

With Passive Consent: The main challenge is making sure that all parents/guardians all receive notification, have ample time to notify the school that they don’t authorize participation, and parental refusals are carefully monitored. With passive consent, there is a higher likelihood than under active consent that a parent/guardian could later complain that their child was surveyed when they weren’t informed or they had refused.

Working with Continuation and other Non-traditional Schools

Many of the characteristics of continuation and other alternative schools and students make obtaining parent/guardian consent difficult. It is necessary that you double your efforts to make sure that the parents and guardians receive and return the forms. If court or community day schools are included in the sample, a universal parental consent from the head of Probation can be obtained for all students within the criminal justice system, if judged appropriate under Education Code Section 51513. Be sure to carefully evaluate your county’s guardianship arrangements before surveying.


After your school board policy is in place, prepare the parental consent letter or notification form on your district or school's letterhead. The letter must give parents confidence that they have been fully informed about the survey and that every reasonable effort to protect their and their student’s rights have been taken.

Sample modifiable consent letters in English and Spanish are available.

If you make another language translation, we would appreciate receiving a copy so that we can make it available to others. Minimally, the consent letter must contain the following information:

  • The survey’s purpose, content, and methods.
  • Student rights to privacy and confidentiality, and procedures for protecting these rights.
  • Any potential harm from participation.
  • The names and telephone numbers of school or district personnel to contact for additional information.
  • The location where they can review the final survey instrument (see Task 15). This survey must be the actual version that is being administered by your district, including all the modules that the district has selected and any additional questions that it has included.

In addition:

  • Passive consent letters must include the location or person where parents/guardians can decline their child’s participation, with instructions on how to do so.
  • Active consent letters must give parents/guardians the opportunity to grant or decline their child’s participation, with instructions on how to do so.

Some supplemental modules require additional information about content not covered in the Model Consent Form, as follows:

  • RYDM Questions About the Home Environment: Add “To further assess resilience and healthy development, there are questions about adult relationships, expectations, and participation in the home.”
  • Safety and Violence Module: Add that it includes items on “considering, planning, or attempting to commit suicide.”
  • Sexual Behavior Module: Add that it includes questions about “sexual behavior and practices leading to HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.”


Although the details surrounding consent-form distribution vary for passive versus active consent, the basic issues are the same. You’ll need to distribute the parental consent forms, implement strategies to increase participation, and motivate school staff. It’s also important to make special considerations when working with non-traditional schools.

For Passive Consent: Classroom distribution is not recommended for passive consent because of the risk that some students may not give the form to their parents/guardians and might be surveyed without permission. Home mailing is recommended, especially options that require verification of receipt (e.g., require a signature from the recipient).

For Active Consent: For ease in monitoring consent returns, districts using active parental consent have the option of sending an informative letter before or at the beginning of the school year, and distributing the actual active parental consent form at least two weeks before the survey date. Nevertheless, sending the actual parental consent letter before the start of school and again closer to the survey may allow time to implement a more aggressive outreach effort if the initial return rate is low. Be sure to document all your distribution efforts, in case a parent or guardian of a student that took the survey complains they received no notification.

Research and experience show that most parents/guardians do not object to student participation. The challenge is making sure they return the signed parental consent forms. If a signed parental consent form is not returned, approval has not been granted.

Tips for Form Distribution

Consider using the following strategies to help insure that parents/guardians receive and return the forms.

  • Use multiple contact techniques. To avoid any parent/guardian complaint that their child took the survey without parent/guardian awareness use multiple distribution techniques for information and forms.
  • Combine with other important material requiring signatures. When possible, send the form to parents/guardians along with other important materials that they have to sign and return, or otherwise guarantees receipt. For example, it could be included in the registration or enrollment materials sent to all parents/guardians in the beginning of the school year, or with the school emergency cards.
  • Home mailing. In addition to being the recommended strategy to use for passive parental/guardian consent, home mailing may be useful for active parental consent when used in combination with other techniques, such as classroom distribution.
  • Alert parents/guardians. Before or while sending out the forms, alert parents/guardians through the school newsletter or other communication method when they will be receiving them. If your school has an automated phone calling system, it can be used to send out messages.
  • Give parents a deadline date. Give parents/guardians a deadline for returning the letter or informing the school that they do or do not want their child to participate.
  • Include letters of support. Include a letter of support from the superintendent, principal, or other official.
  • Language. Provide information in languages spoken by the community; and arrange a contact person and/or an information session about the survey for the community.


A critical step in the consent process is monitoring the return of the forms. The method you choose may vary depending on a school’s structure and the type of parental consent you use. Carefully track the distribution and return of forms so you can identify students whose parents never returned the parental consent form in active consent or declined participation.

  • For passive parental consent, it may be better to have a single person or office, identified in district policies and communications, responsible for monitoring and recording refusals. This will help avoid parent/guardian refusals from slipping through the cracks.
  • For active parental consent, it is usually most convenient for the classroom teacher to monitor returns. If you have enough advance time, you can mail (or re-mail) the parental consent forms to non-responding parents/guardiana. Research shows telephone reminders to non-responding parents are very effective. If your school has an automated phone calling system, it can be used to send out messages.

About three weeks prior to the scheduled survey administration, start checking with each School Coordinator:

  • For active consent, make sure forms have been sent to parents or guardians, reemphasize the importance of a high return rate, and carefully track returned slips and refusals.
  • For passive consent, make sure withdrawals are being carefully tracked.

One week before the survey, contact each School Coordinator and ensure that each school is on track for achieving a 70% student response rate. If not, immediately discuss delaying the survey with your Technical Advisor. It is best to postpone the survey if you cannot meet sample standards.

  • For active consent, check enough parental consent forms have been received to ensure that each school and grade will reach the 70% student response rate (either consenting or not consenting) and confirm that lists of non-participants are being prepared for the teachers.
  • For passive consent, confirm that lists of non-participants are being prepared for the teachers.