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New Guide Gives A's To Six of 47 National Anti-Drug Programs

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Washington

Only six of 47 national drug-prevention curricula earned an A in a report card issued here last week by Drug Strategies, a nonprofit Washington group.

The first-of-its-kind guide is designed to help educators, parents, and others sort out what works and what doesn't in preventing alcohol and drug use among students. Such school anti-drug programs, few of which have been rigorously evaluated, prompt both hope and skepticism among adults looking for ways to stem rising drug use by youths.

In addition to the six programs that received A's for overall program quality, six of those rated, including the popular elementary-grades program McGruff, earned the lowest grade given any program--a D.

Drug Strategies, which identifies effective ways to combat substance abuse, issued the report after two years of work. The guide was financed in part by a grant from the Spencer Foundation in Chicago.

Those who helped prepare the report, which also outlines the key features of an effective drug-prevention curriculum, say they hope it will be as useful as other guides to consumer products.

"Not all vacuum cleaners are alike. Not all prevention programs are alike," said Kris Bosworth, an associate professor of education and the director of the Center for Adolescent Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. Ms. Bosworth served on the panel of experts that helped develop a detailed rating method for reviewing the curricula.

"If we're going to have real accountability in drug-prevention education, we have to empower parents and other citizens in the community to understand what the choices are that they can make," Mathea Falco, the president of Drug Strategies, said.

For school administrators who have to get the most bang for what may be fewer and fewer bucks, those choices can be crucial.

10 Studied in Depth

The guide also identifies 10 programs that have been the subject of careful evaluations, published in peer-reviewed journals, that measure actual changes in alcohol or drug use.

One of those is the popular DARE, or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program. But it is the only one of the 10 for which numerous studies yielded inconsistent results. The others showed at least some reductions in the use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs among students.

In the ratings done by Drug Strategies, the DARE program got mixed reviews. Its programs for grades K-4 and 7-12 earned C grades. However, the revised 1994 version of the curriculum for grades 5 and 6 got a B. At a cost of about $17 for one class of 30 students for one year, DARE is also among the least expensive of the 47 programs reviewed. And the police officers who present the program in classrooms are trained at no cost to the schools.

"The evaluation results," Ms. Bosworth said of DARE, "certainly do not match the popularity of the curriculum."

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