A recently released report reveals the effectiveness of a comprehensive sexuality education program implemented in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) in grades K–12. The study, conducted by Philliber Research Associates, with support from The AIDS Funding Collaborative (AFC), evaluates the second year of a three-year initiative to provide education about responsible sexual behavior education to students.
The evaluation of the program measures changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behavioral intent among students in elementary, middle, and high school.[i]
The study does not measure actual behavioral change. Findings show that there was significant increase in knowledge among students in grades 4–12 after receiving comprehensive sex education. Among high school students, specifically, changes in knowledge, attitude, and behavioral intent were all statistically significant.[ii]
High school students showed a significant shift in attitudes toward condom use, pregnancy prevention, and remaining abstinent as well as increased skills in condom negotiation.
The Responsible Sexual Behavior Education Initiative was first implemented in CMSD during the 2006–2007 school year to provide comprehensive sexuality education to students in accordance with the sexual health goals of the school district’s newly adopted Comprehensive Health Plan. These goals include “prevention of school-age parenthood,” “support for pregnant and parenting school-age students,” “prevention of the transmission of STDs, including HIV/AIDS, to students,” and “support for students living with STDs, including HIV/AIDS.”[iii]
With $1.3 million in funding provided through the Cuyahoga County Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) grant, the program was initiated using modified versions of four evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education curricula. These curricula include All About Life
(used in grades K–3), F.L.A.S.H.
(used in grades 4–6), Making Proud Choices
(used in grades 7–8), and Safer Choices
(used in high school). During the first year of the initiative, health services liaisons employed by CMSD and educators from six community-based organizations provided comprehensive sexuality education to approximately 36,500 students. Intensive training was also conducted with 14 physical education and health teachers that same year to equip them to teach comprehensive sex education curricula in the CMSD schools where they worked.[iv]
In year two of the initiative, due to a cut in TANF funding to $790,000, independent contractors and trained CMSD teachers administered the comprehensive sex education curricula to 26,326 students, which represents 64 percent of the total number of students that were expected to receive the curricula during the second year.[v]
Despite the funding setbacks, however, the program has received support from community stakeholders and a commitment for continued funding in the future.
Ohio currently faces a major economic crisis with a $3.2 billion budget deficit, however, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has stated that he is committed to ensuring that support for the Responsible Sexual Behavior Initiative continues.[vi]
“You know what someone really cares about based on what they sacrifice, and where they put their money. So we want to demonstrate to young people that we care about them,” stated the mayor.[vii]
Parents have expressed strong support for the program as well. Findings from the evaluation show that more than 75 percent of parents with children in grades K–6 backed the program.[viii]
Moreover, 97 percent of parents with children in grades 7–12 agreed that it was important or somewhat important for schools to offer sex education.[ix]
In addition, students reported benefiting from the comprehensive sex education they received. More than 75 percent of students reported that they learned a lot from the program.[x]
“To have the old-school sexual health movies, it just didn't get through to us at that time,” said Cleveland High School senior Earlaina Kemp in an interview with WBNS 10TV. “But we have people that can talk to us on our level and we're understanding what they're trying to teach us.” Another high school senior, Abbey White, commented on the information provided through the program, “It was very beneficial to have something that was fact-based. I've been able to make a lot of smart decisions because I know the truth, and I'm not questioning what I'm learning.”[xi]
Recommendations included in the current report state that an evaluation of the final phase of the program should occur earlier in the year and must involve teachers to a greater extent. Most of all, the report recommends that “teachers become familiar with the goals and processes of the initiative’s evaluation” so that they are better equipped to comply with all of the evaluation requirements.[xii]
An evaluation of year three of the program is currently underway and initial data is expected to be available by this fall. There are also plans to evaluate the program during the coming 2009–10 school year. Moreover, there is a continuing commitment to conduct more in-depth analysis of the program’s effectiveness now that it will be fully administered by district staff in its third year, and as it becomes more institutionalized into the district’s schools. Specifically, there are plans to evaluate the cumulative impact on students who have received the program multiple years in a row.[xiii]
While the program at present is not expected to be evaluated for behavioral change, supporters of the program believe community systems that assess sexual and reproductive health outcomes, such as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey (YRBS), may elucidate the positive contribution of the program over time to reducing STD and pregnancy rates among young people. Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance (YRBS) data is collected by Cleveland County Health Department every two years.
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[ix] Evaluation of Responsible Sexual Behavior Education, p. 30.
[x] “District Says Sex Education Program Working.”
[xii] Evaluation of Responsible Sexual Behavior Education, p. 40.
[xiii] Conversation between Morgan Marshall and Laureen Tews Harbert, 5 August, 2009.