D.C officials call first school health test results valuable

December 13, 2012

Students in the District scored an average of 62 percent on the nation’s first standardized health test, results that were better than education officials had expected because D.C. schools have not had a long history of teaching subjects the test covered.

The test, which examined students’ familiarity with nutrition, wellness, disease prevention and sex education, was administered to students in fifth and eighth grades and in high school in the spring. The District’s Healthy Schools Act of 2010 mandated the testing, which city officials said presented a good starting point for understanding students’ knowledge in those areas.

Sandra Schlicker, director of wellness and nutrition services for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told D.C. Council members that she was “pleasantly surprised” with the results when council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) asked her if a 62 percent score was one the city should celebrate.

“I think these results for a base line are fairly good,” Schlicker said, adding that because no other city or state has ever administered such a test, it’s difficult to know how D.C.’s scores would stack up.

More than 11,000 students in the D.C. public schools and public charter schools took the 50-question exam.

At the time, critics denounced the idea as excessive standardized testing and said city schools should focus on raising low math and English scores.

But leaders of organizations that work on teen health in the District said at Thursday’s hearing that the test results are a valuable evaluative resource.

Scores on the reproductive health section of the test, where high school students answered an average of 75 percent of the questions correctly, might improve if schools devoted more class time to that subject, said Shana Bartley, a peer health and sexuality education program coordinator at the Young Women’s Project. In her work with teenage girls, Bartley said, she hears from many who wish they had more chances to discuss the subject in class.

“They have one week to learn about condoms and anatomy, and then they move on to fire safety,” Bartley said.

She called for schools to provide a breakdown of which health subjects are being taught, and when. Right now, she said, it can be unclear what is included in a school’s health curriculum.

Geetha Ananthakrishnan, a public policy coordinator for Metro TeenAIDS, said the results will help her organization decide where to focus its attention as it works to educate young people.

But Ananthakrishnan said she was concerned by what she called the “extreme delay” in the release of the results. Results from other standardized tests D.C. students took in the spring came out in July.

Schlicker said officials in superintendent of education’s office will continue to refine the test. The office will evaluate the effectiveness of the questions in measuring what students have learned, and it plans to reach out to schools that underperform, she said.

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