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Conducting a YRBS (formerly Wisconsin Online YRBS)

At a Glance

studentsWhat is the YRBS?


  • The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is conducted on multiple levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds and oversees YRBS data collection at the national level. CDC also funds states to conduct a YRBS and provides oversight and support to allow states to produce official, state-level statistics based on a sample of students.

Since 1993, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has worked with CDC to conduct a state-level YRBS every two years. That state-level, or “State of Wisconsin YRBS”, is based on a representative sample of public high school students and is the source of official state-level statistics. Results of that survey represent the state as a whole and cannot be broken down to the county or local level.

In addition, since 2007 the DPI has also allowed high schools and middle schools access to an online YRBS system to conduct their own surveys for local use. Many schools and communities around the state have used that system to generate local data, but DPI did not provide much guidance on local data collection or publish or utilize results from local surveys. This meant that there was an enormous amount of local data across the state, but it didn’t reliably or officially add up to any standardized regional statistics. Beginning in 2018-19, DPI is making changes to close this gap and facilitate the production of regional YRBS data across the state. Assuming adequate participation levels, this will allow a Wisconsin high school that conducts the YRBS to look at their school’s data in comparison to their region (e.g., county and/or CESA), to the state, and to the nation.

How is the survey done?

Students take the survey online during the school day. The survey is anonymous and administered in a test-like environment to ensure privacy.

Which schools can participate?

Any school with grades 6-12 can participate in local surveys. Private schools are eligible to participate at the local level, but they are not included in the scientific sample used to generate state-level statistics. State-level statistics (from the State of Wisconsin YRBS) are based on a sample of public high school students only. This means that state-level data is only available at the high school level and does not account for private school students.

How often is the survey done?

The YRBS is conducted every two years. This has always been the case for the national and state-level (“State of Wisconsin”) YRBS. It has not always been the case for local YRBS surveys, which could be conducted whenever schools wanted. Starting in 2018-19 all state and local surveys in Wisconsin will be conducted at the same time . The move to every other year reduces survey burden on some schools and brings all local surveys in line with the national and state YRBS.

The primary survey window for the 2018-19 school year is January 7 to March 29, 2019. Schools that have conducted a local YRBS in the fall previously and need one final round of fall data collection have the option of conducting such surveys between October 15 and November 30, 2018.

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Changes in 2018-19

After consulting with school, community, and state-level stakeholders, DPI has begun implementing several changes intended to streamline the system and improve the quality of local YRBS data.

  • A new software system! The previous YRBS system served Wisconsin schools well for many years. However, that system is now dated, and the State needed to find a new software solution going forward. Starting in August 2018, all new surveys will be conducted using Qualtrics for YRBS data collection. This is the same survey software used by the University of Wisconsin system, as well as by many businesses and education systems around the nation. Surveys can no longer be created using the previous Online YRBS system (see the section on results and reports below).
  • Standardized timeframe: Moving forward, YRBS surveys will all be conducted in spring semesters of odd-numbered years.
    • For the 2018-2019 school year, schools can administer their surveys between January 7 and March 29, 2019. In fall 2018 only, schools can conduct one final fall administration during October and November 2018.
      • Why standardize the time frame?

        • While some schools and communities appreciated the ability to administer their YRBS at any time, the lack of a standardized YRBS administration window caused several problems. Efforts to generate regional and even state data were often undermined because schools needed for those surveys had often taken the YRBS on their own only a few months before. This also led to survey fatigue and sometimes duplication of efforts.

        • Limiting the YRBS to a certain window will enable simultaneous data collection at all levels, improve the quality of the data collected, and reduce survey burden on schools.

  • Standardized questionnaires: Rather than allowing schools to create a questionnaire from our online question bank, the new system features standard high school and middle school questionnaires, with some limited ability to customize through optional modules. This will reduce the need for local and regional coordination and allow for more consistent local, state, and national comparisons.
  • Better integration with Wisconsin’s statewide survey: In the past, the official CDC/DPI State of Wisconsin YRBS was separate from the online YRBS that schools used to generate local data. Schools sampled into the State of Wisconsin YRBS had to do both surveys if they wanted to comply with the state’s data collection needs and get their own results. The new system is fully integrated to eliminate duplication of efforts.
  • More support for the creation of regional data (county and Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA)): The changes to the YRBS system will facilitate the production of consistent regional statistics across the state. See the section on counties, CESAs, and other stakeholders for more information.
Surveys and Optional Modules

YRBS surveys are designed for students in grades 6-12. All YRBS- administering schools must use either the standard high school survey (for grades 9-12) or standard middle school survey (for grades 6-8).

  • In addition, during the registration process schools may opt to add ONE (and only one) of four optional modules: 1) Drug-Free Communities Core Measures; 2) Youth Tobacco Survey; 3) Adversity and Protective Factors; and 4) Safe and Supportive Schools. Each module has 10-13 questions.
  • Here’s how this looks on the registration form for high schools (grades 9-12):

high school survey example

  •  Here’s how it looks on the registration form for middle schools (grades 6-8)

middle school YRBS example

  • What if my school has both middle school and high school grade levels?
    • Survey versions are determined by the grade level rather than the type of school. Students in grades 6-8 should take the middle school version, while students in grades 9-12 should take the high school version. Such schools can use one registration form to register for both versions of the standard survey.
  • Can schools choose more than one module?
    • Schools can only choose ONE of the four optional modules named above. While there are always more questions we might like to ask it's vital to keep the surveys to a length that most students can, and will, complete during a normal class period. IF your school finds it hard to choose between the modules, it's important to remember that the standard high school and middle school surveys already include questions on drugs, tobacco, adversity and protective factors, and school climate. The optional modules simply allow for additional depth into one of the topic areas already covered on the standard survey.
    • In addition to the four optional modules described above, schools surveying at the middle school level may add the four-question High-Risk Populations mini-module. This includes demographic questions that can help identify disparities between student groups. Those demographic questions appear on the standard high school survey but from the standard middle school survey. There are no additional topic areas covered in this mini-module. Middle school surveys can, therefore, vary in length between 49 questions (standard survey only) and 66 questions (if a school selects the Drug-Free Communities module and the High-Risk Populations.

  • Can a school just use the optional modules without a standard survey?
    • No.

  • What if we’re a Drug-Free Communities (DFC) grantee?
  • DFC grantees will need to select the DFC module (Module 1) in order to have all of the core measures required for the DFC grant.
  • Why create standard surveys?
    • In the past, Wisconsin schools could pick and choose questions from a sprawling online YRBS question bank. While this had the advantage of customization, it caused confusion and made it difficult to generate statistics that were useful above the school level. Even with the customization option, most schools gravitated towards topics covered in the State of Wisconsin YRBS. However, over time the old question bank contained many different versions of the same basic question, making it difficult for schools to make comparisons between their data and that of other places, or to produce municipal, county, or CESA (regional) statistics unless there was a deliberate effort at coordination. The different question versions also were problematic for schools if they switched between question versions from one year to the next. Because schools were not required to include any substantive questions or topics on their local YRBS surveys, in theory, two neighboring districts could each administer their own “YRBS” without having any questions in common with one another or with the State of Wisconsin YRBS.
  • How were the questions for the standard surveys selected?
    • High School Survey: The standard high school survey that is available to all high schools is now the same as the CDC/DPI State of Wisconsin YRBS which is used to generate official state-level statistics. This will allow for direct comparisons between state and local data, as well as significant overlap with national YRBS results. Wisconsin’s high school survey combines CDC requirements with recent and long-standing Wisconsin questions.
    • Middle School Survey: Wisconsin has never conducted a formal, statewide middle school survey. In the old online YRBS system, the default questions were set to mirror that year’s high school survey. While most schools did use those standard surveys, there was a lot of variation among middle school surveys.

    • Questions on the 2019 standard middle school survey were determined based on:

      • Including the middle school equivalent of most high school questions.

      • Incorporating questions or topics that have been most frequently used in local Wisconsin middle school surveys in recent years.

      • Incorporating stakeholder feedback about key topics.

    • What are the main differences between the middle school and high school surveys?

      • Length: the middle school survey is much shorter than the high school survey.

      • Emphasis: The middle school survey has more of an emphasis on protective factors and fewer questions about sexual behavior or other sensitive topics. This reflects the emphasis of most middle school YRBS in recent years, and so attempts to match the survey to community norms as well as students’ development.

  • What if there are topics on the surveys that my school doesn’t need or want?
    • The YRBS is designed to cover many different areas broadly related to health and wellness. The results are used by stakeholders across a wide array of health-related areas. While some schools may only directly care about one or two topic areas, in general, the YRBS is a powerful tool precisely because it does provide data across several different topics. Every topic covered is valued by a national, state, or local set of stakeholders.
    • The YRBS covers sensitive topics. Schools cannot exclude questions, but students can skip any questions that make them feel uncomfortable. Students can also opt out of the survey altogether if they or their parents wish.
  • What if my school wants to administer the survey every year, or in non-survey years?
    • Surveys will not be available outside of the new survey window. After March 29, 2019, the next YRBS will begin in January 2021.
Registering for a YRBS

All Wisconsin public and private schools with eligible grade bands (6-8 for the middle school survey; 9-12 for the high school survey) can register for a YRBS. Each school can register once. Schools that combine middle school and high school grades can use a single registration form to sign up for both surveys and administer the age-appropriate version to each set of students in their building.

  • When to register:
    • Registering for final fall surveys: The window for administering a fall survey is October 15-Nov. 30, 2018. Schools wishing to conduct one final fall survey can register for their fall survey any time between October 1 through November 1, 2018.
      • Registering for spring surveys (encouraged). The registration window for the spring opened on October 17, 2018. Schools are encouraged to register early for their own planning purposes. However, registration will remain open through March 15, 2019.
  • How to register: Registration is a quick and automated two-step process. Click here to see an overview of the process. 

1) REQUEST: Anyone involved in local YRBS efforts can use this YRBS Request for Registration to request that a registration form be sent to the principal.

  • The form just asks for the name and e-mail of the person initiating the process and the public or private school they want to be registered, as well as an optional message for the principal who will receive the registration link (e.g., “Please forward the registration form to me to complete” or “When you register, remember that all schools in our county agreed to choose Module 2”). The form should take 3-5 minutes to complete.

  • Once the request form is submitted, an e-mail is automatically sent to that school’s principal on file. This process ensures that the principal has direct input into the registration process and that no one creates a false or unauthorized YRBS for a school. (If the principal is initiating this process, they should still use this form because it's the process for generating a registration form.)

2) REGISTER: Once the principal receives the e-mail with a link to an online registration form, they can either complete it themselves or forward it to their designated YRBS contact to fill out (this is likely to be the person who initiated the request, but could be someone else). Only one person should open the registration form link. If you already know which version of the survey you want and when you plan to administer it, the registration process should take 5-10 minutes. 

  • The information from the registration form will be used to set up your school’s YRBS link. The YRBS School Contact (who is named on the registration form) will receive an e-mail with the link and password in advance of the scheduled survey date, along with instructions for survey administration.

  • What if the school doesn't get a registration form? 
    • If you request a registration form for a school, an email is automatically sent to the principal on file as soon as you submit the request. There are a few reasons why the principal may not see the email:
      • It got buried. Make sure that the principal is notified that they will receive the email so that they can forward it or complete the registration before it’s buried.
      • It’s in their spam folder.

  • Why this process? 
    • This process is new in 2018-19 and is designed to be easy and flexible while still ensuring that school authorities are aware and involved. It avoids the need for local survey administrators to submit signed forms to DPI authorizing their role, as well as for DPI to manage user accounts when staff at schools turn over. Unlike the old online YRBS (OYRBS) system, the new Qualtrics system does not have a registration portal with designated user roles. Therefore a new approach to survey registration and setup was required. Stakeholder feedback gathered during this cycle will determine whether any changes will be needed for the future.
  • What if I have to register many schools? 
    • The most convenient option in this situation is probably to have a point person at each school register that school, using the survey dates and version agreed upon by your district, CESA, or local coalition.
  • What if our principal has changed?
    • Principal emails in the YRBS system are not automatically updated. If the principal has turned over since the start of the school year, please notify Kate McCoy at 
What’s Different for CDC/DPI Sampled Schools?

CDC/DPI sampled schools are the approximately 50 high schools selected at the beginning of a YRBS cycle to represent the state as a whole for Wisconsin’s official, statewide YRBS statistics. Such schools are notified by DPI of their selection at the beginning of the year. Most schools taking the YRBS are not part of this group.

  • Registration
    • DPI directly contacts sampled schools with a registration link that is specific to their school.
    • If a “Request for Registration” form is submitted for a sample school, and the sample school has not already registered, DPI is notified and communicates with the school and the requester.
  • Classroom sampling
    • Sampled schools choose to administer their survey either during a required period or during a required course, and provide the relevant course list to DPI. DPI then works with CDC to sample classrooms from among that list for inclusion in official state statistics. Schools can choose whether they want to just survey those sampled classrooms or to survey the whole school. Surveying the sampled classrooms only meets CDC/DPI requirements but does not produce enough data on the school as a whole to produce a school-specific report. For that reason, many sampled schools opt to survey school-wide. Sampled schools also have a few different procedures on their survey administration date based on CDC requirements.
  • Will sampled school data be part of county and regional reports?
    • Sampled schools have the option of either surveying their whole school or only surveying a few sampled classrooms selected by DPI. Sampled schools that opt to survey the whole school will get reports from their data, and the school’s data will also contribute to the county and CESA reports. Sampled schools that only survey sampled classrooms will not get their schools’ results, and the data will not be used towards county or CESA reports. While the sampled classrooms are vital for the State of Wisconsin statistics, they are not sufficient to represent that school.
  • Will sampled schools get their results?
    • As described above, sampled schools that survey the whole school will get their results.
  • How are schools sampled?
    • Every two years, DPI submits a sampling frame to CDC of public schools that include 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grades. CDC then uses a method called “probability proportional to size” to select schools from that list based on the number of students they have. Within those schools, required classrooms or class periods are sampled for inclusion in the state dataset. This allows each eligible public high school student in Wisconsin an equal chance of selection.
  • How can the process be random if my school has been selected before?
    • The sampling process equalizes the chance that individual students will be selected, not schools. Large schools have more students, and therefore a higher probability of selection. Small schools are always part of the sample, but it’s much less likely that any given small school will be in the sample several times.
  • Now online
    • Prior to the 2018-19 school year, CDC mandated that all sampled schools participate via paper. In Wisconsin, this meant that sampled schools only surveyed their CDC/DPI sampled classrooms and did not get school-level results. If they wanted school-level results, they had to use DPI’s OYRBS system to do so. The new system allows sampled schools to use the same online system and get the same results as other schools.
Reports and Results

How and when do I see data from local surveys conducted prior to the 2018-19 school year?

  • The previous online YRBS system is no longer used to collect survey data, but it can still be used to access existing data. If your school used the system in the past, make sure to retrieve old reports now. The system will be unavailable after the 2018-19 school year.
    • The old OYRBS system can be accessed here.
  • Once the previous system is closed, the data will be archived at DPI. However, the reports from the system (e.g., PowerPoints, comparison reports, etc.) will not be available to DPI or to schools. Schools that did not retrieve their reports will be able to request their data, but the data will not be in the form of tables, charts or PowerPoints and the process may take longer to complete.
  • If your school has reports in the old system but the person who accessed the reports is no longer available, contact John Bowser at
  • If you are a current system user but you encounter any issues while retrieving old reports, contact Antwon Simmons at

School results from 2018-19

  • What will schools get back?
    • Schools will receive detailed reports summarizing their data. School reports of results will be very similar to those produced in the previous online YRBS system (frequency tables and charts).
  • When will schools see their results?
    • Schools and districts will receive their results during April-May 2019. Some results may be available sooner. Where available, county-level results will be released once all school results have been disseminated.
  • Regional statistics
    • Wisconsin’s official statewide statistics are produced under the auspices of the CDC using a statewide sample only (there are no regional estimates). However, in the past, many communities around the state used some version of their local YRBS survey to produce county or other regional data. Prior to 2018-19, these efforts depended on the decisions and initiatives of local stakeholders, with no ability to compare across regions. With the move to standard surveys and a single survey administration window, local YRBS results across the state can now be used to populate county, CESA, and other regional statistics and reports without extensive local organizing efforts. This change was enacted after extensive consultation with YRBS stakeholders from the local and state levels.
  • What does it take to generate regional data?
    • In order to generate reports at either the CESA or county level, all of the following are required:
      • At least three (3) schools in that area must participate in that survey. This means the high schools OR three middle schools, not a combination. The data from three schools taking the same survey version will be combined for county or CESA reports.
      • More than half of the public schools at a given level (middle school or high school) take the survey, and
      • Each participating school has a minimum of 50% of students take the survey.
        • If the above requirements are met, reports will be made available to participating county health departments and/or CESAs. These agencies are required to share the information with schools in their area as part of the terms of use. CESA/county reports will not show any school-specific results.
        • In order to build on existing efforts and momentum, data collection is based on a census of students rather than a sample. The requirements above establish the minimum in order to generate local statistics. However, communities are strongly encouraged to exceed this because of the higher the level of school and student participation, the more accurate the regional results.
  • What if our area can’t fulfill those minimum requirements?
    • Counties with only two eligible schools can get countywide data if, and only if, both schools provide explicit authorization for the aggregation of their data. More information on the authorization process will be posted here.
    • Similarly, if there is only one eligible school in a county, no county report will be released without the school’s explicit authorization.
    • Another alternative is for neighboring counties with only a few schools to request a combined report. The combined report would follow the same parameters as the standard county reports (e.g., at least three schools, etc.) School authorization is not required for such combined reports.
  • What information will/will not be available?
    • DPI will provide county health departments and/or CESAs with access to a dashboard to view their regional statistics in a number of ways. Responses are summarized (no raw data)
    • Counties and CESAs will not see school-specific results, raw data, or information that undermines student privacy and confidentiality.
  • What other best practices can strengthen regional data?
    • Encourage all schools in a region to participate. The more schools participate, the more complete and accurate your regional results will be.
    • Survey all eligible grade bands. Student risk behaviors do vary by grade level. Excluding certain grades from a survey can skew the results and make it harder to draw comparisons at the regional, state, or national levels.
    • Coordinate the survey version across schools. If all participating schools within a region select the same optional module, results from that optional module can be reported at the county or CESA level (assuming that other conditions for reporting such data are met). However, if this is not feasible, the standard questionnaires do include at least some questions related to each optional module topic area.
Counties, CESAs, and other Stakeholders

This section provides information for any non-school stakeholders interested in promoting the YRBS and using local data

  • How will the information be shared locally?
    • County health departments and CESAs will have the option of receiving access to a regional dashboard with 2019 YRBS results. As public agencies and official DPI partners (CESAs), these are the designated entities for dashboard access. Health departments and CESAs are not required to accept the invitation to access a regional dashboard. However, if they do, it's expected that they will share the information broadly with schools and other local stakeholders who may already be deeply involved in YRBS efforts.
  • What role is there for other stakeholders?  
    • The fact that health departments and CESAs have the opportunity to be the designated users for the dashboard does not necessarily mean that they lead the local efforts, nor should they displace efforts of others. In different parts of the state, the champions for local YRBS may work for UW-Extension, non-profits, health care entities, and local coalitions. Such champions may continue to be leaders for YRBS data collection and interpretation locally. Depending on the local landscape, a county health department may be centrally involved in local YRBS efforts, or might only be approached by other local organizers after data collection is complete, to help them view and interpret results. If no health department or CESA accepts the offer of a dashboard, other local YRBS stakeholders may use the DPI data request process to solicit a report with similar information.
  • How can stakeholders support schools’ YRBS efforts?
    • Given the structure of regional data collection, anyone hoping to generate county or CESA statistics has an incentive to encourage as many schools as possible to participate in the YRBS. Advocacy should always be approached respectfully and with an understanding of the many constraints schools face. Whenever possible, non-school stakeholders are encouraged to offer direct support to schools to help make the process easier. Such support might include registering on their behalf (with the schools’ permission), preparing materials such as parental consent forms, speaking with school boards, proctoring the survey, and presenting the results.
    • Help from local stakeholders in securing the participation of any CDC/DPI sampled schools in their area is particularly important since their participation is required for the generation of state-level statistics.

Reports and regional data: see the section on Reports and Results

Survey Resources for Schools

This section contains tips and documents that can help schools prepare for their YRBS survey.  Many of these documents are also attached to the email schools receive upon registration.

Can’t find a YRBS email? Check your spam folder. Although we strive to spam-proof all communications, in some districts the YRBS communications do get routed to spam.

Passive Parental Permission Form

Active Parental Permission Form

  • Translated Forms

Thank you to Milwaukee Public Schools for providing translations of a passive parental permission form into several languages. Note that the English version upon which these translations are based differs slightly from the current version we are using. The English version of these translations appears at the end of this list.

Passive Parental Permission-Hmong

Passive Parental Permission-Karen

Passive Parental Permission-Rohingya

Passive Parental Permission-Somali

Passive Parental Permission-Spanish

English Basis for Passive Parental Permission Translations


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