Student Well-Being

Academic Pressure on Rise for Teens, Poll Finds

By Scott J. Cech — August 05, 2008 3 min read

High school students are more pessimistic about the future of the country and feeling more stress over grades, compared with their counterparts earlier this decade, but are still confident about their own futures, according to a report released today.

The latest edition of “The State of Our Nation’s Youth,” which has published poll results episodically since 1996, finds a marked increase in academic pressure reported among the nation’s teenagers.

The proportion of students reporting that pressure to get good grades creates a problem for them increased from 62 percent in 2001 to 79 percent this year, according to the report, which was issued by The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a Washington-based nonprofit educational association. Over that same period, the percentage of those reporting grade pressure who classified it as “major” has risen 19 percentage points, to 45 percent.

The amount of time that surveyed teenagers reported spending on their homework is also up. In the latest report, 21 percent of students said they spent more than 10 hours a week on homework, up 9 percentage points from 2005.

The latest survey found that the proportion of high schoolers feeling hopeful and optimistic about the country has fallen 22 percentage points since 2003 — from 75 percent that year to 53 percent in 2008. Students’ top concerns in the new poll were the economy and the war on Iraq, at 34 percent and 31 percent respectively.

However, 88 percent of the 1,006 public and private school 9th to 12th graders, ages 13 to 19, who were surveyed in April described themselves as confident, and 66 percent said they were optimistic about their own futures.

Peter D. Hart, the president of the Washington-based polling company Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey, said in a statement: “What emerges from the research results is a portrait of a generation who believe in themselves and their abilities, despite anxieties about the country.”

Grading Their High Schools

While the amounts of academic pressure and time spent on homework have increased over the past six years, according to the report, students’ academic performance and perceptions about their schools have stayed mostly static.

Despite intensive efforts to improve public schooling in recent years, the grade point average high schoolers assigned their schools this year — 2.7 — is the same as it was in 2001.

As for their own grades, the proportion of students reporting that they got mostly B’s or better on their latest report cards has fluctuated — from 61 percent in 2001 to 70 percent in 2004 to 67 percent this year.

The proportion of students planning on postsecondary education remains high, although slightly fewer students plan to attend four-year colleges or universities: In this year’s report, 70 percent of respondents said they were headed to bachelor’s-level institutions — down 6 percentage points from 2005. Over that same time span, the proportion of students reporting plans to attend a community or technical college after high school rose 5 percentage points, to 23 percent.

“The State of Our Nation’s Youth” has not tracked Internet usage consistently from report to report, but this year’s version reflects the burgeoning of social-networking Web sites and entertainment Web applications over the past few years. Surveyed teenagers reported spending more than 13 hours online per week communicating with friends and entertaining themselves, compared with not quite five hours per week online for homework.

The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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