Just under half of the seventh graders polled by the Washington public school system say that student behavior is poor and 31 per cent report they are fearful, at least sometimes, of being hurt or bothered in school.
The poll, taken by the school system's research office, also reports that about two-thirds of the students say the teaching they receive is good or excellent; but over half say the reputation of their school is fair or poor.
The survey questionnaire was given last spring to a 10 per cent sample of the approximately 8,000 seventh graders in Washington schools.
It was designed primarily to compare reactions of students enrolled in regular junior high schools to those attending seventh grade classes in elementary school buildings.
Although the survey found no significant differences between them in the general measures of student discipline and fear, the survey reported that 70 per cent of the students in regular junior highs said that many students smoke cigarettes in their schools in violation of rules. in answer to a specific question, some 48 per cent said the smoking creates a problem.
Fewer than a quarter of the seventh graders whose classes are in elementary school buildings said there was heavy smoking.
When asked what they would tell the school superintendent if they had a chance to speak with him, 64 per cent of the junior high students volunteered that they would talk about "the poor behavior of most students."
The most frequent comments under this heading, according to the survey report, were "too much smoking, fighting in school, bigger students take your money, students cut classes, walk the halls . . . lockers are always being broken into."
In an interview, School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed said, "We've got some discipline problems in our junior high schools, no doubt about it. It's an age of tremendous adjustments for the youngsters - phsically, psychologically, and in a lot of other ways."
"I think most of ours schools deal with their discipline problems pretty well," Reed added. But he said students may expect better behavior than teachers do.
"The kids are far more conservative than the teachers are when you ask them a question like that," Reed said. "It may be that if a youngster gets out of his seat or gives the teacher a little lip that the other kids will see it as discipline problem."
Elizabeth C. Yancey, the vice superintdendent, said she thought behavior was "considerably better" among seventh graders in elementary school buildings wven though the poll indicated no difference between student perceptions in the two types of schools.
Overall, about 27,300 students attend D.C. junior high schools. About 1,100 seventh and eighth graders attend classes in elementary schools.
Even the regular junior highs, Yancey said, have fewer discipline problems now than they did around 1970.
"You don't hear about the junior high schools exploding now," she said, "like you did six or seven years ago. I think some of our schools are in better shape."
However, Shirley Brown, president of the Council of School Officers, AFL-CIO, which represents D.C. school principals and supervisors said he though behavior had deteriorated, partly because of strict rules on student suspensions adopted by the school board in 1974.
Under the rules, which comply with a decree issued by U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Waddy, principals must file written charges against students they wish to suspend for more than two days, send a copy of the charges to parents by certified mail, and hold a hearing. Any decisions by a principal to suspend a student for more than two days is subject to review by a hearing officer appointed by the school board.
The procedures are so complicated, Brown said, that many principals feel "harmstrung" in dealing with unruly youngsters. As a result, he said, "They just adopt a laissez-faire attitude and let a lot of these things happen. What can they do?"
Brown added that until around 1970 most junior high schools had "social adjustment" classes for students with discipline problems that kept them separate from other children but did not force them to leave school, as student must do when they are suspended.
"We were able to isolate these troublemakers," Brown said, "and protect the other kids. Sometimes the troublemakers were straightened out."
George Margolies, a lawyer who works for the school superintendent, said the school board decided to end the separate classes because they generally did not help the students in them.
Margolies said some principals complains that the suspension rules cause extra work and problems, but he said the rules are working well in many schools where good discipline is maintained.
According to the survey report, researchers who visited four of the 21 schools where students had filled out questionnaires concluded that discipline was good. Teachers and administrators in the four schools also said they maintained good discipline, the report said, even though students said behavior was poor.
"The perceptions of the students might be different than what the teachers see," Margolies remarked, "and we can't say their perceptions are wrong. Very often a student who is intimidated doesn't speak up because of fear of being hurt more."
School board president Conrad Smith noted that while 25 per cent of the seventh graders said they were "sometimes" afraid of being hurt at school and 6 per cent said they were afraid "most of the time," 38 per cent said they were "never" afraid and 27 per cent said "almost never."
Smith said he saw the figures as a positive response, indicating that fear among students is relatively low.
He said student behavior in school is "largely determined by what goes on in the home."
"Parents have a responsibility," he said, "for the behavior of their children. The schools hould not be burdened with erratic and undisciplined behavior."
The students polled in the survey attend 15 of the city's 30 junior high schools and six of the 16 elementary schools that house seventh and eight grades.
Assistant Superintendent Mildred P. Cooper, who directed the survey, said the schools included were in all parts of the city and had a representative cross-section of students.
According to the results, only 2 per cent of the students said the behavior of most children in their school was "excellent." Eight per cent said it was "good," 35 per cent "fair", and 49 per cent "poor." Only five per cent answered "don't know."
On the question about the quality of teaching in academic subjects, 24 per cent answered "excellent," 39 per cent "good," 25 per cent "fair," and 8 per cent "poor."
Even though all seventh graders in Washington are supposed to go to the school in the attendance district where they live, 15 per cent of those attending classes in elementary schools and 10 per cent in regular junior highs said their parents had enrolled them in a different school because they felt it was safer.
In the written comments on the questionnaire, many students said they wanted teachers to be more effective disciplinarians, the survey report said. One typical comment, the report said, was "We have good teachers, but they need help in controlling the students."
At the direction of Superintendent Reed, no more elementary schools are allowed to add seventh grades last fall, and the survey report generally backed Reed's position that the elementary schools with junior high student do not offer a full enough range of courses.
However, members of the school board's education program committee, headed by Minnie S. Woodson, said these conclusions were "subjective." The committee recommended that seventh and eight grades be added to more elementary schools if local communities want them.