Study Awards A's Only 6 School Drug Programs

Bill Howard
July 1, 1996

A first-of-a-kind review shows all school drug prevention programs are far from equal. Indeed, only six of 47 programs widely used from kindergarten through high school to help prevent alcohol, tobacco and drug use merited an "A" rating in an independent study conducted by Drug Strategies, a Washington, D.C., private nonprofit agency.

Programs were graded on nine "ingredients," including their ability to teach students how to recognize internal pressures, such as anxiety and stress, and external pressures like peer attitudes and advertising. Then programs were rated as to how well students were instructed to develop personal and social "refusal skills" to resist the pressures to become users.

Mathes Falco, formerly of the Cornell University School of Public Health, and current head of Drug Strategies, said one of the most important elements studied were interactive teaching techniques such as role playing to develop awareness and resistance skills. This was one of the major weaknesses found in the McGruff Crime Prevention Dog's "Just Say No" program for preschool through grade 6. The puppet program of tapes and songs promoted with Justice Department funding to the National Crime Prevention Council, which licensed its development, received failing grades on most criteria.

"Limited instruction for teaching refusal skills. Sequence of lessons weak. Teacher materials dull. Program simplistic; reviewer had difficulty with cheerful songs on scary subjects," the McGruff entry says in Making the Grade: A Guide to School Drug Prevention Programs.

Winners Evaluated

The ratings for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) taught by police officers with Justice Department and local funding were mediocre. The review said the sequence of lessons for youngsters from kindergarten through high school was "somewhat illogical." It added: "Middle and high school curriculum not well focused on skill development. Concern that not all students receive follow-up beyond core curriculum." The guide also noted numerous evaluations of D.A.R.E. showed "inconsistent findings."

The six "A" scorers were:

Michigan Model, a comprehensive K-8 health program of the Michigan Department of Public Health.

Alcohol Misuse Prevention Program for grades 6-8, developed by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

Life Skills Training for grades 6-8 or 7-9 by the Princeton (N.J.) Health Press.

Project ALERT for grades 6,7 or 7,8 by the Best Foundation of Los Angeles.

Project Northland for grades 6-8 by the University of Minnesota.

STAR (Students Taught Awareness and Resistance) for grades 5-8 by the Institute for Prevention Research, Los Angeles.

All six of the programs were among 10 that met the reviewers' evaluation criteria. That is, extensive studies of each, published in peer-review journals, employed pretest, post-test control group designs that measured reductions in tobacco, drug and/or alcohol use.

Several of the programs that showed positive results in evaluations, however, "are often not aggressively marketed," the study said. No evaluations were listed for the McGruff program to justify its government sponsorship and heavy promotion.

The winning programs all employed role playing and interactive teaching techniques and involved students' parents in their homework. But the review found that "unfortunately, very few programs have been developed specifically for high school students" who are at the age for trying smoking, drinking and drugs. They also are not receiving "booster sessions" to reinforce prevention skills learned in earlier grades.

Overall, the study found drug prevention programs reached "less than half of the nation's school children.

The study did not cover community after-school drug prevention programs, though it said they also were important in teaching youth to resist drugs. Cited as an example was the Boys and Girls Clubs' SMART Moves program. Falco said Drug Strategies may do a review of community prevention programs at a later date to help counselors and parents choose those shown to be most effective.

Copies of Making the Grade are available for $12.95 per copy from Drug Strategies, 2445 M St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037. (202) 663-6090 Fax (202) 663-6110.

Howard, Bill. "Study Awards A's Only 6 School Drug Programs."Youth Today, July/August 1996, p. 34.

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