Washington, D.C., students scored better on standardized exams about sex education and drugs last spring than they did on the reading and math portions of their tests, according to results released Wednesday.
Overall, D.C. students answered an average of 62 percent of the questions correctly on the health and physical education portions of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS), outscoring their performance on the math and reading sections, at 49 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Students who took the health exam, however, may not have necessarily taken the math and reading portions as well, according to the Washington Times.
The results showed fifth- and eighth-graders are familiar with emotional health issues but have work to do in the realm of understanding the human body. High-schoolers knew little about how to get information and help for health and wellness, but on average they scored about 75 percent on sexuality and reproduction.
The exam is the first standardized test on health and sex education in the country. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education developed the 50-question exam and administered it in April to more than 11,000 students across DCPS and public charter schools in an effort to map students' knowledge of risky behavior.
The test measured students' knowledge in health-related topics including nutrition, wellness, safety skills, disease prevention, physical education and healthy decision-making. The district's rates of child obesity, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are among some nation's highest.
“In a city with such high rates of HIV, teen pregnancy and STDs -- let alone obesity and other diseases that plague our community -- we’re not where we should be,” Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAids, a community health organization that does prevention work with D.C. youth, told the Washington Post.
Critics argue the exam detracts from a focus on improving students' math and reading proficiency, but advocates say the exam provides schools with information necessary to curb the city's health issues. In a statement Wednesday, Deputy Superintendent Sandra Schlicker also noted that healthier students tend to perform better academically.
A report released in April by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that schools have made little progress in recent years in teaching students about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.
Just 22 states and D.C. require schools to provide both sexuality and STD/HIV prevention education. Another 15 states require only STD/HIV education and 13 states have no requirements at all. Researchers from the Guttmacher Institute reported in May that greater education about contraception is directly correlated to a decrease in risky sexual behavior among young adults.