MDI Parent & Guardian Resources

At a Glance:
Information for Parents & Guardians

The Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a self-report questionnaire that asks children in Grade 4 and Grade 7 about their thoughts, feelings and experiences in school and in the community.

Children’s voices matter. One of the core beliefs of the MDI is that children’s voices deserve to be heard. Asking children for their input is valuable because it provides us with rich data on child well-being that we couldn’t otherwise access.

The MDI uses passive consent, which means parents are asked to return a withdrawal form if they do not want their child to participate. The MDI is a unique population-level survey that is used to gather comprehensive data to improve the lives of children across the population. In order to make informed decisions in policy and practice, the data must be representative of the whole student population. It is not often feasible to get the active consent of such a large population. This in contrast to studies which only require a sample of the population.

The MDI project is voluntary. Schools, teachers, parents/guardians and children are able to choose whether or not they participate. If a parent or guardian does not wish his or her child to be involved in completing the survey, they simply need to inform the school, or email us at mdi@help.ubc.ca to withdraw their child from the project.

Frequently Asked Questions are included below. Please don't hesitate to email mdi@help.ubc.ca if you have a question that is not answered below.

What is the MDI?

The Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a self-report questionnaire that asks children in Grade 4 and Grade 7 about their thoughts, feelings and experiences in school and in the community. The MDI is not an assessment for individual children. Instead, it is a unique and comprehensive population-based measure that helps us gain a deeper understanding of children’s health and well-being during middle childhood.

The Importance of Children’s Voices

The MDI is unique in that it gives us insight into areas that have great significance in children’s lives but are not typically evaluated by other forms of assessments. Rather than evaluating academic progress, the MDI gives children an opportunity to communicate to adults in schools and communities about what their experiences are inside and outside of school.

Children’s voices matter. One of the core beliefs of the MDI is that children’s voices deserve to be heard. Asking children for their input is valuable because it provides us with rich data on child well-being that we couldn’t otherwise access — data which we can use to create environments and interactions which help children thrive. It is also powerful because it tells children that we value their thoughts and feelings, and grants them a say in how their schools and communities make changes to support them.

The MDI is aligned with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that states ‘‘children are full-fledged persons who have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them and requires that those views be heard and given due weight in accordance with the child’s age and maturity.’’(www.unicef.org/crc/).

Passive consent is common in population health studies because it is not often feasible to get the active consent of a large population. With informed passive consent, parents and students are fully informed of the nature of the project and the use of the data but are not required to actively complete a consent form. Parents/guardians who do not want their child involved in the project can withdraw by signing a form at the end of the parent/guardian letter or can notify their teacher or contact us at HELP, UBC at mdi@help.ubc.ca, within four weeks of receiving the passive consent letter. Their child will immediately be withdrawn from the study.

We use passive consent in order to help us understand where systematic differences in well-being and healthy development occur, and it requires looking at the whole student population. This method is used in similar projects of this kind as long as parents/guardians have sufficient time to decline participation; translations of consent forms are available in languages representative of the parent/guardian population; children are informed of their research rights; and confidentiality of children’s responses are maintained. Also, passive consent is used because the study is considered low risk, provides beneficial community information, and it is emphasized to the students that they are not required to participate, nor to answer all of the questions.

The MDI is Voluntary

The MDI project is voluntary. Once a school board has chosen to sign on, the schools, teachers, parents/guardians, and children are able to choose whether or not they participate. If a parent or guardian does not wish his or her child to be involved in completing the survey, they simply need to inform the school, or email us at mdi@help.ubc.ca to withdraw their child from the project.

In addition, children themselves also have the right to choose not to participate. Students can skip any question, and students can withdraw from the survey before, during or after the survey. Students can withdraw during the survey by clicking the “withdraw from this survey” button on the bottom of every page of the survey.

Aboriginal MDI Data and OCAP

Guided by our Aboriginal Steering Committee, HELP respects the First Nations principles of OCAP® (Ownership, Control, Access, and Possession) or other community based ethics codes, with regard to MDI data for First Nations, Métis and Inuit children.  This means that Aboriginal Nations and organizations have access to group-level data for the First Nations, Métis and Inuit children in their area, to support Aboriginal self-determination and inform program and policy creation. As part of this commitment, HELP never publically reports Aboriginal MDI data or uses it for comparison with other data. HELP has established a clear process for sharing MDI data for First Nations, Métis and Inuit children. For more information, please contact Lauren Wolfe, HELP's Aboriginal Community Liaison Coordinator at aboriginal.liaison@help.ubc.ca.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I see the questions on the MDI?

Can I see my child’s answers to the MDI survey?

Why do you use passive parent/guardian consent?

How is my child’s privacy protected?

How much time does it take to fill out the MDI?

Is participating in the project a good use of class time?

How does the MDI differ from the FSA?

Why Grade 4 & Grade 7? Isn’t my child too young to answer these types of questions?

Can my child with special needs participate? Are there accommodations for children with special needs to participate?

How will information from the MDI be used?

Why is this survey important? What difference will it make?

Can I see the questions on the MDI?
Yes. The questionnaire is available here: MDI Grade 4 and MDI Grade 7. Some parents use questions from the MDI to help guide conversations about their child’s feelings and experiences in school and in the community.

Can I see my child’s answers to the MDI survey?
The MDI is not an individual assessment tool. Your child's individual responses are private and confidential, and children are made aware that their responses will not be shared with the school, their friends or their family. The students’ responses are combined into reports for each school and shared directly with the school. We recommend following up with your school principal or PAC to access your school-level results. Results are publicly available at the neighbourhood level in the spring through our website here.

In particular, the MDI is a unique population-level survey that is used to gather comprehensive data to improve the lives of children across the population. In order to make informed decisions in policy and practice, the data must be representative of the whole student population. Studies have shown that active consent of such a large population is often not feasible. This in contrast to studies which commonly require only a sample of the population, in which case active consent is deemed feasible. To learn more about the use of passive consent, please contact privacy@help.ubc.ca.

In order to facilitate consent that is fully informed, HELP provides detailed parent/guardian information letters in twelve languages. Additionally, HELP and partnering school districts work with schools to offer and encourage a variety of communication approaches in accordance with and in addition to their regular practice (e.g. parent newsletters, bulletin boards, etc.). Any parent who does not want their child involved in the project can notify their teacher or email us directly within four weeks of receiving the letter and their child will be withdrawn from the project.

How is my child’s privacy protected?
Safeguarding data is a responsibility HELP and the University of British Columbia take very seriously. HELP follows the highest standards available, many of which are required by law. To ensure the privacy and confidentiality of individuals, all of HELP’s systems and processes meet or exceed the requirements of provincial and federal privacy legislation.

At HELP, the data are collected on a server hosted within UBC’s secure virtual server environment. Access to the server is restricted according to the recommended standard for encryption (Government of British Columbia, Cryptographic Standards for Information Protection, Version 1.5), and is protected by firewalls so that it is only accessible from within the UBC’s virtual private network (VPN). The identifiable personal information is removed, encrypted and stored separately from the rest of the survey responses that is used for population-level research by HELP researchers. The data is stored by Population Data B.C. in their highly secure data storage facility.

Please visit our Safeguarding Personal Information page to learn more about how HELP safeguards research data and protects the confidentiality and privacy of individuals.

How much time does it take to fill out the MDI?
The MDI survey takes about 45 – 90 minutes to complete depending on the grade and reading level of the students.

Is participating in the project a good use of class time?
Schools and school districts across the province choose to participate because they find the information valuable in learning more about students in the specific areas of development captured by the MDI. There are numerous examples of how the data has been used by schools and communities, such as using the MDI data to help make decisions about after-school programming and recreational activities for students. Visit discovermdi.ca to learn more!

How does the MDI differ from the FSA?
The MDI goes beyond academics and offers a view of the “whole child.” For example, in BC, the only information that exists at a large scale level about students is the information obtained from the Foundational Skills Assessment (FSA's). The FSA focuses on “skills of Reading, Writing, and Numeracy.” In contrast, the MDI focuses on strengths - the questions on the MDI are designed to ask children to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives, and provide them the opportunity to share these reflections with adults. Children feel very much empowered when their thoughts and perspectives are heard by the adults in their lives. The MDI allows for a more holistic portrayal of information -- an approach that is gaining momentum with educators and researchers across North America.

Why Grade 4 & Grade 7? Isn’t my child too young to answer these types of questions?
Grades 4 and 7 are important transitional times in a child’s development with many cognitive and social and emotional changes. Experiences in the middle years, ages 6 to 12, have critical and long-lasting effects. They are powerful predictors of adolescent adjustment and future success. By focusing on children in Grades 4 and 7, we can learn more about the factors that can make a meaningful difference in children’s lives.

No, your child is not too young. Research has found that responses from children in Grade 4 and above are as reliable and valid as responses from adults. More importantly, children’s voices matter. One of the core beliefs of the MDI is that children’s voices deserve to be heard. Asking children for their input is valuable because it provides us all – researchers, educators, parents and policy-makers – with rich data on child well-being that we can’t otherwise access – data which we can use to create environments and interactions that help children thrive.

It’s also powerful because it tells children that we value their thoughts and feelings, and gives them a say in how their schools and communities make changes to support them.

Can my child with special needs participate? Are there accommodations for children with special needs to participate?
Our goal is to include all children in the study, giving every student a voice. To this end, the survey experience has been designed with children in mind. It is done online, so the majority of questions can be answered with the click of a mouse. A few questions provide a space to type a single letter or a 1 to 2 word response. We have also included a voiceover function should it be easier for some students to listen to the questions and response options instead of reading. We also include information about how schools can provide additional support to students who may need it. We encourage parents to contact their child’s teacher to discuss how the child can be best supported in completing the survey. Please contact us if you have additional questions.

How will information from the MDI be used?
Schools use their data to evaluate and inform school goals and initiatives that support student well-being. Community organizations use neighbourhood level MDI results to inform their planning for programs for children in the middle years. And these are just two general examples. We encourage you to ask your school principal how they plan to use the MDI results.

It is also important to note that the MDI is a population-level research tool. This means that although individual students complete the questionnaire, the results are not used to evaluate individual children, nor are they used to rank teachers, neighbourhoods, schools or school districts.

Why is this survey important? What difference will it make?
Data collected from the MDI is used to create comprehensive reports that are shared with schools and communities in BC and across the country, making a difference in the lives of children by informing policy and practice. By asking children to tell us about their daily habits, feelings, relationships and environments, we honour their voices and enable them to work with us to support their development. The population-level data that the MDI collects helps us all – researchers, educators, parents and policy-makers – better understand the factors that promote well-being in middle childhood. Please visit Discover MDI to read some of the school and community stories.

Parent & Guardian Letters

Letters are sent to all parents of participating classes prior to the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) questionnaire being completed usually in November of each year. They include information about the MDI project and contact information in case the parents have any questions. In addition, our Parent Information Sheet outlines key information about the MDI including information about why the middle years matter.

Below, please find the Parent and Guardian Letters for BC. Our National sites (Northwest Territories; Hamilton, Ontario; Nova Scotia) use slightly different letters. Parent and Guardian letters are available in twelve languages:

 

                           
MDI Grade 4 Questionnaire (PDF)                        MDI Grade 7 Questionnaire (PDF)