Press Perspective: Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire

Aria Soeprono, Opinion Editor

Background on the SDQ:

On November 15, administration gave out the very first SDQ, or Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, to all students. It was part of a recent initiative by the Issaquah School District called PBSES (Positive Behavior and Social Emotional Stress Program).

Prior to conducting the questionnaire, the district sent out relevant information through e-News, which explained that the survey would be used to contact the parents of those “who have scored as being significantly impacted by internal stressors.”

This universal screener was not anonymous for the purpose of identifying students who may be struggling with the highest level of stress and anxiety to get them the resources that they may need, but it does not diagnose any mental health disorders.

Although administered by the Issaquah School District with the best intentions, it is unlikely that it will yield the expected results, especially if continued the same way in the future.

Ultimately, this survey does not hold much power because students cannot be forced to join certain programs or even go into the counseling office for a consultation. Unless changed drastically, the SDQ will not fulfill its intended purpose and therefore is more invasive than helpful.


Our Concerns:

  1. Informed Consent

Many students were taken aback when they realized the schedule was modified to take this universal screener because e-News primarily goes to parents, and not the students themselves.

Further, because students were given little to no information prior to taking this screener, they did not know where the information would go or what it would be used for. By the time they were taking the survey, students were unprepared for the types of questions it was posing, and many did not realize that there was an option to opt out of responding to the SDQ.


  1. Student Confidentiality

If a particular student’s results are concerning and display the “highest level” of stress and anxiety, according to compiling and comparing to others, the administrators’ concern will be demonstrated through an email directly to the parents, not the student, whose mental health may be suffering.

Because the purpose of the SDQ was to identify students who internalized stress and did not reach out to parents or teachers for resources and help, this creates student concern.

If students wouldn’t reach out to their parents in the first place, why would they want their concern over mental health to go through administration?

The counseling department has a policy in which there is confidentiality between student and counselor, unless consent is given by the student, or something they say raises concern for the harm of themselves or others.

So why wouldn’t this same courtesy be continued over mental health concern regarding the SDQ?

Although it does not violate any health confidentiality laws, one of the main concerns this questionnaire poses is whether some of the more personal questions make students uncomfortable.

One of the questions on the survey stated: “I get a lot of headaches, stomach-aches, or sickness,” which does not necessarily violate any laws, but may make students feel violated nonetheless.


  1. Anonymity and Honesty

With this in mind, why would a student wish to answer truthfully to such a potentially invasive survey, especially given that their response is directly linked to their name?

This is increasingly relevant in the question that stated, “I take things that are not mine from home, school or elsewhere. “It is unlikely that any given student would admit to this crime even when given the opportunity to confess, especially given that the screener is not anonymous.

Since students may not understand how the survey will be used, they might be fearful of the consequences in putting a truthful answer, and this goes for similar questions as well.

The issue of honesty goes beyond anonymity, however, because the classroom environment also has an effect on how truthfully a student chooses to respond.

For instance, if you are in PE class, surrounded by your peers on the gym floor, your friend peering over your shoulder at your answers, how likely are you to disclose personal information about your level of anxiety?

This makes it more difficult to get accurate screening results. Consequently, some students may not receive the proper help and resources that administration could provide.


  1. Misleading Conclusions

With the high levels of stress and anxiety that even mentally healthy high school students are experiencing, it is easy to come to a false conclusion when reviewing the surveys. There is a difference between normal levels of stress and unusual or unexplained anxiety that may signal a deeper mental health issue.

By giving such vague and broad answers like “not true,” “sometimes true,” and “certainly,” it doesn’t leave any room for much differentiation, and is likely to result in inaccurate conclusions.


Future Implementation:

The SDQ will not be modified before the next time of administration, most likely in the spring. However, the Issaquah School District is currently trying to identify points of improvement or consideration for further implementation. Because the SDQ is copyrighted by a research company, it is unlikely that any edits can be made to any of the screening questions themselves.

However, the way that administration gives out information and reaches out to the students regarding the screener can be modified and improved. In the future, it is possible that this universal screener may be able to be taken via mobile phone to speed up the processing.

Although the administration meant well, we urge them to consider the effect on the student when administering such a private and personal questionnaire, and make sure that the participants, the students taking the SDQ, are very aware of the purpose, means, and ability to opt out.