The large majority of U.S. high school students feel safe in school, but many see a need for more mental health services for students, according to a new report from ACT, the nonprofit organization behind the ACT® test.
The report, Creating Safe Schools: Examining High School Student Perceptions of Their Physical Safety at School, is based on findings gathered in a survey of 10th- through 12th-grade students who took the ACT test in October 2018.
The report points to three main conclusions:
There’s a need for additional mental health services in U.S. high schools.
There’s a need to study the effectiveness of measures schools are implementing to improve physical safety.
Policymakers and school leaders should take students’ perspectives into account when considering which school safety measures to implement.
“While a majority of students reported feeling safe, nearly one in four said concerns about school safety negatively affect their ability to learn,” said Jim Larimore, chief officer for ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning. “Our report is intended to help communities understand student perceptions and address student concerns about school safety so that they don’t interfere with students’ ability to learn.”
The overwhelming majority, 91 percent, of students agreed at least somewhat that they feel safe in school, with 71 percent saying they agree or strongly agree. And virtually all agreed, at least somewhat, that they feel safe traveling between home and school.
White and male students were slightly more likely to report feeling safe than were female, black and Hispanic students. In addition, safety varied depending on the size of the school attended, with students attending smaller schools being more likely than those from larger schools to report feeling safe.
The findings, however, point to a perceived need among students for more mental health services in schools. Fewer than half of students said their school offered mental health services for students who need them, and more than a third said providing or increasing mental health services in their school would increase their feelings of safety.
Students attending suburban, urban and larger schools were more likely than those in rural and smaller schools to report that mental health services were available for students who needed them.
“Given the connection between student learning and safety in school, we think it’s vital to capture students’ voices on this topic and use their perspective to inform improvements,” said Gretchen Guffy, ACT senior director of state and federal policy.