MDI 101

The MDI at a glance

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    Grade 4 & Grade 7

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    At school via online password-protected survey. Approximately 30-90 minutes to complete.

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    Identifiable information removed. Records are encrypted and stored in a highly secure data storage facility. Parents/guardians and children may opt-out at any time.

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    Data paints a picture of well-being at a group level; aligns with BC Core Competencies

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    Data Sharing

    HELP produces reports for schools, school districts and communities/neighbourhoods in shareable formats.

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    The MDI Technical Guide offers the full list of measures, individual questions and response scales.

The Middle Years Development Instrument offers a unique lens into the world of children aged 6-12, by measuring their well-being and exploring the assets in their communities and schools that support and strengthen their healthy development.

  • The MDI looks at the whole child, beyond academic achievement, including social, emotional, and physical health.
  • The perspectives of children are critical. The MDI results are a reflection of their experiences and lens on the world in their own voices.
  • Research has demonstrated that relationships are central to the development of resilience and a critical asset in the lives of all children.
  • Children live, learn and play in a variety of environments. There are multiple contexts, inside and outside of school, that influence their development and well-being.

Foundational Principles of the MDI

The MDI is a strengths-based tool

Strongly rooted in theories of resiliency, the MDI was created to help us identify, acknowledge and work with the strengths, assets and resources present in the lives of children as a starting point for change. A strengths-based approach does not ignore weaknesses or the challenges that kids experience, but emphasizes that a more holistic approach to health and well-being is required. The positive assets and competencies highlighted in the MDI results come from children’s perceptions and become the foundation from which schools and communities can tackle problems.

Beware of any tendency to see the the MDI as a rating tool, a report card or something that highlights “what is wrong.” Maintaining a focus on strengths is empowering, it fosters collaborative action and it can help re-frame challenges as opportunities to build capacity.

Are the results valid?

Previous research has found that responses from children in Grade 4 and above are as reliable and valid as responses from adults. A total of four studies were conducted to test the validity of the MDI survey, including two initial pilots in 2008, and two district-wide pilots in both urban and rural communities in 2009 and 2010.

Results from these studies showed the MDI to have both strong reliability and validity. Data checks are repeated every year to ensure the data collected each year meets rigorous research standards.

The MDI provides data on groups, not individuals

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. MDI data are analyzed for groups of children and provide a clearer picture of how populations are faring at one point in time and across multiple points in time. The MDI produces group-level data that can be reported and mapped at a neighbourhood level, allowing schools and communities to see variations in well-being across both geographies and time.

The real utility of MDI data lies not in assessing the strengths and needs of one student or one class, but in seeing patterns across a community or district, and across time. Creating environments and experiences to help children thrive is a continual process, and having access to data on larger groups is essential to inform that work. HELP strongly believes that the best initiatives to improve child well-being are universal ones, focused on elevating every child in the community. See a more detailed discussion of proportionate universality on the HELP website.

MDI History

Developed in 2006 by a University of British Columbia (UBC) research team led by Dr. Kim Schonert-Reichl, the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) is a self-report questionnaire completed by children in Grade 4 and Grade 7. The questionnaire asks students how they think and feel about their experiences both inside and outside of school. The results provide educators, parents, researchers, and policy makers with action-oriented information and insight about children’s lives.

The instrument itself was created through a collaborative process with scientific experts, community members, educators and children.
You can read more about the pilot study that led to the MDI, and see the current questionnaire in full.

What happens to the data?

The protection of children’s privacy is a key consideration for researchers and staff working with MDI data. Names and addresses of children are not collected. Some identifier data, such as postal codes and dates of birth, are used to assist with analysis and reporting. Identifiable information is removed before records are encrypted and stored in a highly secure data storage facility at the University of British Columbia. Where neighbourhoods or districts contain fewer than 35 children the results are suppressed to ensure that individual children cannot be identified.

MDI data is analyzed by the data team at HELP and released in reports made available to participating schools, school districts, and communities. Current and archived district and community reports are free to download at [HELP’s website]. In addition, special reports are available to individual schools and, through a protocol designed by the HELP Aboriginal Steering Committee, to Aboriginal communities.

The HELP team continues to conduct research using MDI data that is aligned with school and community priorities and supports action on children’s health and well-being.

Can I review
your sources?

Of course!

Check out our References page, with citations broken down by category.
We’ll add to this as new content appears on the site.