Two program features had notable implications for the study design and for this report. The first is the targeting of age groups in the upper elementary or middle school grades. While this is a common program feature of Title V, Section 510 programs, it required the evaluation to include an extended follow-up period so that program impacts on sexual abstinence and activity could be measured. At the time of the final follow-up survey, administered four to six years after youth enrolled in the study sample, the age of the study youth ranged from 12 to 20 years with a mean and modal age of 16 years (Figure II.2). The upper end of this age distribution includes youth primarily from the two programs that served middle school students, ReCapturing the Vision and My Choice, My Future!, while the lower end of this age distribution includes youth primarily from the two programs that served elementary school youth, FUPTP and Teens in Control. Youth in the former two programs averaged 18 years of age at the time of the final follow-up survey; youth in the latter two programs averaged 15 years of age.
Given this age distribution, substantial variation was expected in the rates of sexual abstinence and sexual activity across the study sites at the time of the final follow-up survey (the survey on which findings in this report are based). Youth in the FUPTP and Teens in Control samples were expected to report relatively low rates of sexual activity compared to youth in the other two program sites.
Even at these fairly young ages, however, rates of sexual activity were expected to be at levels such that true program impacts could be detected. For example, according to the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 51 percent of teens in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, report having had sex by ninth grade-the grade of the typical youth in the FUPTP study sample. While comparable data are not available for the other program that targeted elementary school youth (Teens in Control), its service area in Mississippi has among the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state, making it likely that a large fraction of youth in the study sample would be sexually active by the time of the final follow-up survey.
The second program feature with important study implications is the elective versus non-elective nature of the programs, which leads to differences across the programs in both program participation and attendance. As shown in Figure II.3, both My Choice, My Future! and Teens in Control were non-elective school-based programs, and, as with any typical course offered in school, attendance was mandatory among those assigned to the program. In contrast, both ReCapturing the Vision and FUPTP were elective programs, meaning that eligible youth could choose whether or not to participate.
In the case of ReCapturing the Vision, program staff identified a set of high-risk girls in the spring of seventh grade and invited them to apply to the program. Once girls applied and were randomly assigned to the program, they could have chosen not to participate in the fall of eighth grade because they either faced scheduling conflicts (such as a required math class) or may have changed their minds and decided to take another elective. This happened for 35 percent of the girls assigned to the program group. Attendance was mandatory, however, for all girls who chose to participate.
In the case of FUPTP, the program was not only elective but attendance was also completely voluntary, meaning that youth could attend as many or as few times as they chose. In practice, many students did not participate at all, though this was often for involuntary reasons such as transportation problems or other constraints. As a result, many youth assigned to the program group, 43 percent, did not participate in any FUPTP classes.(2) In addition, among those who did participate, only a fraction attended most or all of the classes that were available. Specifically, among the 57 percent of program group youth with any participation, only 11 percent attended more than 80 percent of program services in the first year and 45 percent attended more than half. Even for those youth with low attendance rates, however, the total contact hours were still high because of the program's high intensity (a session available every school day for 150 minutes). Indeed, the average program group youth who participated in FUPTP received an estimated 146 hours of program services in the first year more than the total annual contact hours for either My Choice, My Future! or Teens in Control.
The substantial nonparticipation among program group youth in ReCapturing the Vision and FUPTP reflects the reality of many abstinence (and other) programs that serve youth on an elective basis, making it an important program feature to include in this study. Consistent with standard research practices, the analysis of program impacts is conducted in two ways. The first presents impacts for all youth that the program intended to serve that is, those randomly assigned to the program group. The second presents impacts for those who actually participated in the programs. As discussed in the next chapter, while the estimated impacts differ between these two approaches, their associated statistical significance is roughly equal. Thus, the main conclusions from this study differ little when based on one measure or the other.
1. Specifically, for Heritage Keepers®, the evaluation was designed to measure the impact of adding an abstinence-focused character club to a classroom-based abstinence curriculum rather than to measure the impact of an overall abstinence program versus services as usual. A separate report on the impact of the Heritage Keepers® program is forthcoming [Now available, see link].
2. This 43 percent rate of nonparticipation reflects an upper bound because the program did not have available attendance records for youth who attended fewer than 25 percent of the classes they had the opportunity to attend. The actual rate of true nonparticipation is therefore lower than 43 percent.