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Local: Education

D.C. students score low on nutrition, disease prevention tests

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

D.C. students have significant lapses in their knowledge of personal health, safety skills, disease prevention and other health topics including alcohol and drugs, according to the results of a first-time standardized test released Wednesday.

State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley Jones said the scores will allow the District to establish "subject and skill-specific instruction needed to align students' knowledge at all ages to the standards required of them to live safe and healthy lifestyles."

The District is the only state to include health as part of its standardized testing regimen. The D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System's health and physical education test was administered for the first time this spring to more than 11,000 fifth-grade, eighth-grade and high school students.

An unhealthy understanding
Percentage of questions answered correctly in the 2012 DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) Health and Physical Education exam:
Communication/emotional health Safety skills Human body/personal health Disease prevention Nutrition Alcohol/tobacco/other drugs Healthy decision making Physical education
Fifth grade 77% 66% 44%* 66%* 70% 52% 59% 63%
Eighth grade 76% 68% 58% 70% 50% 64% 70% 51%
Human growth/development Safety skills Sexuality/reproduction Disease prevention Nutrition Alcohol/tobacco/other drugs Locate health information and assistance Physical education
High school 67% 78% 75%* 60% 62% 72% 46% 52%
*Includes subjects that parents may opt students out of
Source: Office of the State Superintendent of Education

When it came to questions of basic nutrition, eighth-graders on average answered only 50 percent of questions correctly, as did 62 percent of high schoolers.

High school students had only a 60 percent accuracy rate for disease prevention, while they answered 75 percent of questions about sexuality and reproduction correctly.

"I look at these and see a D-minus," said Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro TeenAIDS. "But I also look at these and see the potential for an A-plus. Knowing where we are is an important place to start."

Physical education was a topic largely unknown to most D.C. students: Only about half of fitness questions were answered correctly by eighth-graders and high schoolers. Fifth-graders did better on fitness questions, answering 63 percent of them correctly.

More than 35 percent of D.C. children are overweight or obese, one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the National Survey of Children's Health.

"We're clearly missing something," said Maggie Riden, executive director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates.

Mahaley Jones has created a task force to determine the best ways to teach health at each grade level. Tenner, who serves on the task force, said it has been "slow-moving."

Unlike the other DC CAS exams, the health test will not affect teachers' evaluation scores. Additionally, students and teachers will not receive individual results.

Washington Examiner staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Gartner at lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com.

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