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Poll of U.S. Teens Finds Heavier Homework Load, More Stress Over Grades

By Scott J. Cech — August 12, 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 last week.

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.

“These results will enable instructors to better provide the youth of today with the support and assistance they need to reach their goals,” said David L. Sokol, the Horatio Alger Association’s president and chief executive officer, in an e-mail. “It is imperative to the successful growth and development of these future leaders to have teachers and counselors who understand their perspectives and encourage independent thinking.”

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.”

The Student Perspective

A nationally representative survey of U.S. teenagers examined their views on topics including their education and future plans.

Schools
• Students assign grades to their schools that translate to a 2.7 grade point average—the same rating they gave their schools in 2001.
• On a list of possible improvements to their schools, students (38%) say more up-to-date technology would have the biggest impact.
• Students (34%) believe science and technology classes are the most important to take when it comes to succeeding in the global economy.
• Two-thirds (64%) of teenagers report spending time each week playing or practicing a sport for an average of 10.3 hours per week.

Grades and Homework
• Four in five (79%) high school students say that pressure to get good grades creates a problem for them; 45% say it creates major problems.
• The grades students report receiving on their report cards have been stable since 2001, and this year, 67% of students say they get mostly B’s or better.
• One in five students (21%) spends more than 10 hours each week on their homework; overall, students spend an average of 8.2 hours each week on homework.

Colleges and Careers
• Seventy percent of today’s high school students plan to attend a four-year college or university.
• Half (49%) of students have thought about becoming a teacher, 42% have thought about joining the military, 33% have thought about serving in government, and 20% have thought about running for pubic office.

SOURCE: Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Inc.

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 nationally representative poll is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 13, 2008 edition of Education Week as Poll of U.S. Teens Finds Heavier Homework Load, More Stress Over Grades

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