The Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V Section 510: Interim Report . Chapter III: The Foundation for Assessing the Impacts of Abstinence Education Programs


In 1997, Congress authorized, and its staff requested, a scientifically rigorous impact evaluation of the abstinence education programs funded under Title V Section 510 of the Social Security Act.  Policymakers, school officials, community leaders, program staff, and parents all want to know the extent to which particular program strategies succeed.  They want to know for whom these strategies work and to understand the ingredients of that success.  They also want to gather information that will guide program improvement for any groups identified as not responding well to particular strategies.

The early operational findings discussed in Chapter II provide a critical foundation for subsequent reports to address these questions of program effectiveness.  Much has been learned about school and community responses to the abstinence education funding, the range and nature of coalitions formed, the design and operational experiences of the programs, and the responses of youth and their parents.  Evidence on the impacts of the abstinence education programs, however, is not currently available, because obtaining definitive and rigorous evidence on program impacts is a complicated, long-term process.

Over the past four years, the evaluation effort has laid the foundation for a careful, comprehensive, and rigorous assessment of program impacts.  The research team has selected five targeted programs for the impact evaluation, built the partnerships needed to conduct the evaluation, enrolled samples large enough to support reliable estimates of program impacts of each program, and designed and implemented a rich and multipronged data collection strategy to support the evaluation of each program.  The impact evaluation will build on this foundation to determine the extent to which the abstinence programs in the evaluation achieve six specific goals:

  1. Strengthen knowledge and attitudes supportive of abstinence
  2. Induce more youth to embrace abstinence as a personal goal
  3. Reduce sexual activity among youth
  4. Persuade sexually experienced youth to become or remain abstinent
  5. Lower the risk of STDs
  6. Lower the risk of nonmarital pregnancies

Evidence on attainment of these goals is being developed through a scientifically rigorous impact evaluation design, careful and comprehensive data collection, and detailed and deliberate analysis and reporting.  The impact evaluation design avoids the limitations of most prior research on abstinence education programs.  Few previous studies, for example, used rigorous experimental research designs to generate program and control groups.  Those that did use experimental designs usually randomized entire classrooms or schools rather than individual students, which severely reduced their effective sample sizes.1  Few were able to use independent professional data collectors.  Finally, few were able to track outcomes of their sample members over an extended follow-up period.  Consequently, results usually pertain to outcomes of youth before they reached the age when many were engaging in sexual activity.