Starting this spring, Washington D.C. public schools and public charter schools will start administering a 50-question sexual education test to 5th-, 8th-, and 10th-grade students. This will make it the first school district in the nation to utilize standardized testing to determined student knowledge of subjects like human sexuality and drug use and contraception.
Recent studies of Washington's students found that the district has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease among young people in the country and the new test will "paint a fuller picture" about the choices kids are making, according to Brian Pick, of the D.C. Public Schools:
"We don't know as a system or as a city what knowledge kids have about these topics."
So far, the response from parents has been cautious but muted. Nakisha Winston, who heads the PTA at Langdon Education Campus spoke for several parents when she expressed concerns that the new test will take away classroom time from subjects such as reading, math and science.
Executive director of MetroTeenAIDS, Adam Tenner, welcomed the new test but only as a first step to introducing more comprehensive health education in D.C. schools.
"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 seriously deficient.
In an editorial for the Washington Post, Bill Turque wrote that the test results will not be reported like the standardized tests in other subjects. According to the information released by the superintendent's office, test results will not be released to the students, or the teachers and will not be used to evaluate teacher performance. The only data available will be the overall percentage of questions answered correctly by students.
In the article, Turque raises doubts about the usefulness of the results without the additional reporting requirements.