Online Program

Evaluation in the context of strong ideology: Ethical challenges for abstinence education evaluators

Monday, November 4, 2013 : 1:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.

Lisa Lieberman, PhD, CHES, Department of Health and Nutrition Sciences, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
Twenty years since funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs began, there remains limited evidence of their effectiveness. Researchers who evaluate programs that are deeply rooted in ideology, however, are often aligned with particular types of programs, and rarely cross the ideological divide. Two questions that should be asked when conducting evaluation of programs that are ideologically driven are: 1) if a program did not achieve the desired result, would those who were ideologically motivated want to know the answer and 2) if the answer was not what they sought, what would they be prepared to do about it? One popular abstinence education program sought to demonstrate evidence of its effectiveness, believing that working with an evaluator who was not seen as an “abstinence evaluator” would give credence to the findings. A study was conducted in 6 high schools, randomly assigned to the curriculum and a standard text-book based health program. When the evaluation demonstrated a significant short-term behavioral impact, but not a longer-term impact, the organization agreed to publish the data with a peer review stamp of approval, including the study's limitations, both in the methods and the implications of the findings. Subsequently, however, the organization and a national clearinghouse published a press release that exaggerated and incorrectly reflected the reported findings, creating both ethical and practical concerns for the evaluator. The presentation will describe the evaluation, its actual implications, the ethical and practical considerations in evaluating ideologically-driven programs, and the implications of such evaluation work for policy advocacy.

Learning Areas:

Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Planning of health education strategies, interventions, and programs

Learning Objectives:
Identify challenges to rigorously evaluating ideologically-driven programs in abstinence and sexuality education. Discuss the implications of misusing evaluation data in abstinence education programs

Keyword(s): Evaluation, Adolescent Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I was the Principal Investigator of the study being discussed and I have conducted evaluation of a variety of approaches to teen pregnancy/STD/HIV prevention.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.