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Improving Measurement of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Among Middle and High School Students

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2017
74 pages

This report explains the rationale, development, and testing of a survey instrument used to measure sexual orientation and gender identity among middle and high school students and provides recommended survey items based on the testing.


The rationale for conducting such measurement is that understanding the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth is critical to promoting their healthy development and creating safe and supportive environments. Research indicates that these youth may be at higher risk than other youth for bullying victimization, drug and alcohol use, and risky sexual behaviors. In order to develop more valid and reliable measures of adolescent sexual orientation and gender identity, Child Trends, with support from the Arcus Foundation, convened a panel of researchers and practitioners with extensive experience in assessing and/or working with LGBT youth. The panel conducted cognitive interviews with a diverse set of youth to ensure students would understand and feel comfortable responding to tested survey items. Next, a field test was conducted of items that resulted from the cognitive interviews, including them in the U.S. Department of Education's School Climate Survey in Washington, DC, which was administered during the 2016-17 school year with just over 3,000 middle and high school students. Findings are reported from the testing; and based on the testing, recommended questions are reported for each of the following survey categories: sexual identity, gender at birth, and current gender identity. The report concludes that the recommended survey items move the field closer to more consistent, valid measures and provide a foundation for better understanding the experiences of LGBT youth. 3 references

Date Published: June 1, 2017