The Maryland Youth Risk Behavior Survey & Youth Tobacco Survey - YRBS/YTS

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and Youth Tobacco Survey?

The Youth Tobacco Survey (YTS) started in 2000 and provided data on tobacco use behaviors of both middle and high school youth for every county and Baltimore City. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) started in 2005 and provided data on a broad range of risk behaviors of high school youth only, and only for the State as a whole.

The YRBS/YTS collects data on a broad range of youth tobacco and other risk behaviors of both middle and high school youth for every county and Baltimore City.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the core questions of the survey and all 50 states ask those questions in their various student health surveys, predominately through the YRBS (47 states).

Why is the survey being done?

The survey focuses on risk behaviors among youth that cause the most important health problems in Maryland. The data collected are essential to both the State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) and the community health improvement plans being developed and implemented in the counties and Baltimore City.

State and local agencies in collaboration with numerous community organizations use the data collected to monitor, evaluate, and change school and community-health programs intended to reduce the number of youth who engage in risky health behaviors. Many agencies and organizations support this survey initiative.​

What agencies are sponsoring the survey?

The YRBS/YTS is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) in collaboration with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). It an integral part of Maryland’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan, the State Health Improvement Process (SHIP), the Community Health Improvement Processes (CHIP) occurring in many counties, and the Managing for Results (MFR) process.

How often is the MD YRBS/YTS conducted?

The YRBS/YTS is conducted during the fall of even years (i.e. 2014, 2016, 2018, 2022). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and remote school schedules, the Fall 2020 survey was postponed to the Fall 2021. ​

Are sensitive questions asked?

Yes. Some questions are sensitive. AIDS, HIV infection, and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are major health problems. The only way to learn if youth are at risk of getting AIDS or other STDs is to ask questions bout these behaviors. Attempted suicide, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, and weapon carrying may also be sensitive topics. Questions are written in a direct but sensitive way.

Students are advised verbally and in writing before starting the survey that they do not need to answer any questions that make them uncomfortable.

If parents are concerned that their child would not feel that they could leave answers to questions that make them uncomfortable blank, or simply do not wish to permit their child to participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey/ Youth Tobacco Survey, they may “opt-out” their child. Appropriate forms are available at the office of every school selected by the CDC.

Won’t asking questions about risk behaviors increase the likelihood that students will engage in that behavior?

No.The CDC has found no evidence that health risk behaviors can be changed simply be reading a question about them. Trend data from other states that have been asking such questions for a long time shows a decrease in such behaviors, not an increase. 

Can I see the questions that will be on the survey?

Yes.A copy of the survey was sent to your school and should be available to review at the school offices. In addition, a copy of the survey can be accessed on the Internet at the following address:

Does the survey include a physical test?

No.The survey does not include any kind of physical test or exam, and takes just one class period to complete.

Will students’ names or schools be used or linked to the survey?

No. The survey has been designed to protect your child’s privacy. Students are instructed verbally and then again in writing not to put their name on the questionnaire or the answer sheet. The survey data collected is totally anonymous. Data will not be reported for individual schools.

Does Maryland conduct an online web-based YRBS/YTS survey, and will students' anonymity be protected?

In the fall of 2022, Maryland will move to a web-based survey to improve the efficiency of our survey administration​​ process. There are strict protocols for administering the YRBS/YTS online, and these methods will ensure responses are anonymous and student privacy is protected. Maryland will offer a paper/pencil back-up in case of emergencies and if schools are unable to accommodate a web survey.

How was my child picked to participate in the survey?

Your child’s school and classroom were randomly selected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not select individual children to participate in the survey. The CDC first randomly selects schools with grades 6-8 or 9-12 to participate. Second, the CDC randomly selects classrooms within the selected schools. All children within each selected classroom may participate, subject only to parental opt-out and privacy constraints. Using this process, every child within a school level has an equal chance of being selected. No information about an individual child is ever given to the CDC, a state agency or contractor, and none is ever collected.

Is my child required to take this survey?

No. Although school districts, schools, and classes are required by statute to participate in the YRBS/YTS, no child is required to take the survey.

Even if a parent permits a child to take the survey, any child may indicate that they do not wish to take the survey either prior to the time when the survey is to be administered or at the time the survey is administered.

In addition, any parent may notify the school that they wish to have their child “opted-out” of the survey. Parental opt-out forms were sent home at the beginning of the school year at selected schools, and remain available at the offices of selected schools and online.

Parental/Guardian Opt Out Form

Formulario De “NO PARTICIPACIÓN” Para Padres​

Is my child’s school required to participate in this survey?

Yes. Although no child is required to participate in the survey, school districts, schools, and classes are required by statute to participate in the YRBS/YTS. Participation of every school district, school, and classroom selected by the CDC ensures that the data collected will be reliable and sufficiently powerful to support the uses at both the local and state levels.

Do students tell the truth when answering the survey questions?

While a very small number of students do not answer the questions honestly, most students do tell the truth. The CDC and the State of Maryland has every confidence in the validity and reliability of the survey data collected by this survey because:

Privacy and anonymity is protected, promoting honesty

  • The survey environment is very similar to a testing environment, students cannot look at other students responses, teachers do not wander among the students during the survey and cannot see their responses;
  • No identifying information is collected. Students are not to place their names on the answer sheet or the survey questions.
  • Students are told about the importance of providing honest answers, no one will know how they respond to questions.

Responses checked for consistency, inconsistent responses discarded

  • The CDC analysis of the survey results includes more than 100 separate logic edits. If responses between two questions are not consistent, then the CDC excludes both responses from analysis.

For example, if a student reports that he/she had never smoked a cigarette, but also reports having smoked a cigarette during the past 30 days, the CDC excludes both responses from analysis.

CDC analysis shows consistent and logical responses, validated results

  • Survey results are consistent within content areas. For example, more students report thinking about attempting suicide than report making a plan to attempt suicide. Fewer still report having actually attempted suicide, and very few report having made a suicide attempt that resulted in injury.
  • Sub-group differences are logical. For example, the proportion of students who report current cigarette smoking increases by grade, while other behaviors like physical fighting decreases by grade. Other behaviors vary consistently by gender, for example, more males report using smokeless tobacco products than do females.
  • Studies validate survey results. The Centers for Chronic Disease and Prevention (CDC) has conducted numerous studies, beginning in 1992, that have concluded that the survey results are valid and reliable.
You can help us ensure students answer truthfully by informing parents and students that the survey is important, procedures are in place to protect their privacy, and their participation is anonymous.

Is my student able to complete the survey in languages other than English?

The YRBS/YTS online/web survey will be available in English and Spanish. The paper questionnaires are only available in English. ​​

What organizations support the survey?

The survey is supported by the Maryland State Department of Education, the Maryland Department of Health, along with local Maryland school districts and health department.

In addition, the core YRBS questions used in most of the survey were developed by people from more than 100 state and local health and education agencies and 19 federal agencies.

A number of national organizations support the YRBS core questions and survey, including the:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • American Association of School Administrators
  • Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • National Association of State Boards of Education
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National PTA
  • National Catholic Educational Association
  • National Education Association Health Information Network
  • National School Boards Association