Fifth- and eighth graders in the District are pretty well-versed in emotional-health issues but have a lot to learn about the human body, according to results from the city’s (and the nation’s) first-ever standardized test on health, physical education and sex ed.
High school students, meanwhile, correctly answered an average of three out of four questions about sexuality and reproduction — but knew far less about how to locate health information and assistance.
Overall, city students correctly answered an average of 62 percent of questions about nutrition, wellness, disease prevention and sex education.
That’s better than D.C. students’ average percentage of correct responses on math and reading standardized tests (about 49 percent each). But there’s clearly room for progress, said Adam Tenner, executive director of the community health organization Metro TeenAids.
“In a city with such high rates of HIV, teen pregnancy and STDs — let alone obesity and other diseases that plague our community — we’re not where we should be,” Tenner said in an interview.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education developed the 50-question exam and administered it last spring to more than 11,000 students in DCPS and public charter schools.
At the time, the effort engendered concern about excessive standardized testing and jabs from critics who said city schools should be concentrating on improving D.C. students’ lagging abilities in math and reading.
But the exam was also hailed by advocates as a step toward understanding — and ultimately decreasing — the city’s high rates of childhood obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.
Tenner called the test “historic” and praised officials for their willingness to begin examining the root causes of the city’s health problems. Now the question is what needs to be done to make sure schools have what they need to improve health education, he said.
OSSE officials developed the test in response to a provision of the D.C. Healthy Schools Act of 2010, which was sponsored by Council Member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3). Cheh is holding a hearing on the exam results Thursday, Dec. 13, at 11 a.m. in Room 412 at the John A. Wilson Building.
“I’m so pleased by this because it focuses on these dimensions of our students that really I think had been pretty much neglected,” Cheh said.
She said she has a lot of questions for OSSE about what the results mean — and what schools might do differently now that they have this data.
Here are the citywide results, separated by grade level and content category. Percentages don’t reflect proficiency rates, as we’re used to seeing with other tests, but average percent of questions answered correctly.
According to OSSE, 9 percent of 5th graders’ parents opted out of sex-related questions. The opt-out rate was lower for older kids: about 2 percent each for 8th graders and high school students.