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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