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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
INDIANA: Purdue Study Links Abstinence Programs, Academic Success

February 22, 2012
Indianapolis Star (02.08.12) - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A study of Indiana high schools similar in enrollment, community size and racial demographics finds those that offered a specific abstinence education program demonstrated better overall academic achievement.

Purdue University Sociology Professor Kenneth Ferraro analyzed 42 high schools, one-half of which offered the Peers Educating and Encouraging Relationship Skills (PEERS) Project, an abstinence-based curriculum that uses peer educators to discuss risky behaviors. Under the program, high school students are recruited to talk to pupils in grades six through eight in science or health and wellness classes.

"We were interested in whether abstinence education programs were good, bad or benign for academic performance," said Ferraro. "We found that school corporations with a specific abstinence education program had a higher percentage of their high school sophomores pass the math portion of the ISTEP+ Graduation Qualifying Exam in 2008-09 than was the case for matched controls." The longer the schools used PEERS, the better the results, said Ferraro. "We saw greater gains in the percent passing the math exam when the program was sustained for several years," he said. However, there was no association between PEERS and attendance rates at the schools.

PEERS Executive Director Eve Jackson said the program benefits both younger and older students. High school students who serve as mentors tend to grow more confident in their own positive values as they promote them to younger students, she said. "When exemplary role models explain why it is important to set future goals and make healthy choices as well as abstain from all risky behavior, including sexual activity, middle school students pay attention," she noted. Overall, "Students abstaining from risky behavior do better in school," she added.

The study, "Do Abstinence Education Programs Influence High School Academic Performance?" was published in the American Journal of Health Studies (2011;26(4)).