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Students now required to take standardized sex ed, health test


D.C. is treading on shaky ground, considering the polarizing issues of sex education in public schools and standardized testing.

According to the District of Columbia’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), D.C. public schools are planning to test students on their knowledge of human sexuality, contraception, and drug use this spring.

The D.C. OSSE, which developed the 50-question exam for grades 5, 8 and 10, said it will be the first standardized test on health and sex education in the country.

The city’s rates of childhood obesity, sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy are among the highest in the country. School officials say the test will help determine what students know about risky behavior.

Already, South Carolina is field testing a statewide health-education assessment, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped developed a group of sample questions for the test, along with local educators.

The questions have also been aligned to health education standards approved by the D.C. State Board of Education in 2008 to guide instruction on subjects such as STDs, HIV/AIDs, conflict resolution, and respectful communication.

However, some say D.C. is treading on shaky ground, considering the polarizing issues of sex education in public schools and standardized testing.

Officials said the annual test will help gauge what students know about sex, health, and drugs, but some say you don’t need to measure what you already know.

Adam Tenner, executive director of MetroTeenAIDS, a community health organization that helps with health education in D.C. schools, told the Washington Post that he applauded the new test, citing the adage that “what gets measured gets done.” However, he also said that “We don’t need a test to tell us we’re coming up short,” and that efforts need to go deeper.

“We are not preparing teachers or students to get good, high-quality sex and reproductive education,” Tenner said. He cited his organization’s analysis of a new state report that shows that most health education programs in schools remain deficient.

And though it might be good to have hard data on-hand, some parents and community members say the last thing students need is another test.

“Teaching to the test for health, too?” asked Nakisha Winston, head of the PTA at Langdon Education Campus in Northeast Washington, of the Washington Post.

Some say the new test is so ludicrous as to be considered almost laughable.

“I can just imagine the skit Jon Stewart and his crew at The Daily Show will put together on this,” says Valerie Strauss, blogger for the Washington Post.

The test, which is based off of a D.C. law passed in 2010 that requires the city produce a report every year describing progress on student health concerns, is not what the legislation’s sponsor, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh had in mind, says Strauss.

“She figured they would find another way [to meet the requirement] but, alas, she was underestimating the obsession for standardized testing that drives school reform in the District and across the country today…There is no end to the subjects that school reformers cannot subject to a standardized test…Just maybe the time and money spent on developing the test would be better used to train teachers and develop materials for students to really learn the health challenges facing them.”

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