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District health data found lacking

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is widely regarded as a critical source for national trends in the health behaviors of high school students.

But the District's data won't figure in the new survey, due out this summer, because it doesn't meet CDC standards, the agency confirmed Wednesday. It turns out that the response rate for the District survey, overseen by OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education) last February and March, was just 36 percent--far below the 60 percent required by the CDC.

The District's numbers will appear in the report, but because they don't meet criteria they can only be used to describe the behaviors of the kids who took the survey--not to draw important conclusions about the health risks of D.C high school students.

When properly collected, the survey results--which track trends in violence, sexually transmitted diseases, drug and tobacco use and other risky behaviors--are used by local officials and non-profit agencies to make policy and target resources. OSSE's poor performance means that the District will be working off data collected in 2006 (for the 2007 survey) until 2012, when information collected in 2011 is available.

The 2007 survey showed District high school students at elevated risk of attempted suicide, obesity and fighting, among other categories.

Adam Tenner, Executive Director of Metro TeenAIDS, a community health organization that works against the spread of HIV described the situation in an e-mail to other youth advocates as "an embarrassment to the city and a huge setback in our city's attempt to 'measure' our successes."

"The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is responsible for implementation of the YRBS and has clearly not taken the task seriously," Tenner wrote. "I am concerned that [D.C. State Superintendent of Education] Dr. [Kerri] Briggs and her staff do not take the health of DC youth seriously and that they are not actually interested in progress measures when it comes to health and nutrition."

Tenner urged youth health advocates to attend the D.C Council's OSSE oversight hearing at 10 a.m. Friday.

An agency spokesman said that the survey is not legally mandated and that plenty of jurisdictions, including Seattle, Newark and New Orleans, did not participate last year. Others have used "unweighted data" similar to the kind D.C. submitted, the spokesman said.

Nevertheless, in an e-mailed statement, Briggs said: "Student health is a priority for OSSE and we have already taken steps to improve the collection of student data on youth risk behavior." The agency has also arranged extra training for charter school nurses, teachers, social workers, and administrators, she said.


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By Bill Turque  |  March 3, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
 
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Comments

Reinoso's response is what? What are the assumptions here? Data collection of this magnitude is unimportant? Is OSSE just plain negligent? DCPS is working on data from 2006, information prior to this administration? Seriously? That speaks volumns when the "national alert" of this administration is that DCPS is the worst school district in the nation.

The question then becomes what is the impact on learning when available concrete data regarding health, safety and risky behaviors are ignored and specific programs to address the issues are not able to be implemented because of such negligence? Responses anyone? Fenty, Reinoso, Briggs, Rhee, Mr. Health Catania? One at a time please, so that we can be clear on where you stand.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 4, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

This is an incredible outrage. It is almost impossible to measure successes and challenges without the YRBS data. Pretty much any organization that serves youth uses the YRBS to measure the scope of a problem, compare DC with other jurisdictions, and to compare our results over the years. This failure will resonate for another decade.

Posted by: rovner | March 4, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Candycane and rovner - you have it right if you're thinking in the best interests of children. But if you're thinking of upholding Rhee's belief that only teachers are important to student learning and that a student's life outside of school is completely irrelevant, then of course you wouldn't want this data at all. If you had it, you'd have to hide it or manipulate it, so better just not to have it.

If people get up in arms about it, she can always fire reinoso, then rehire him somewhere else in the administration.

Posted by: efavorite | March 4, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Efavorite: You are so correct. I think when you're snowjobbing the public, hiding it is exactly the tactic. However, they just don't get it. Nothing stays hidden for long.

Posted by: candycane1 | March 4, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

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