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Day 2
Day 2: Making a Case for Prevention as Part of Education Reform

Needs Assessment and School Reform
Over the past decade, more and more teachers and school administrators have come to appreciate the inextricable link between students' health and their ability to learn. Yet, as schools face mounting pressure to raise test scores, many lose sight of the range of variables that contribute to improved academic achievement, including the importance of providing a safe and drug-free environment in which students can concentrate on learning.
As a middle school coordinator, one of your primary responsibilities is to draw attention to the multiple ways substance abuse and violence prevention initiatives can enhance your school's overall reform efforts. One way to underscore these connections is by using data. The information that you collect during your needs assessment -- particularly as it relates to the health status and risk behaviors of local youth -- can be an important starting point for discussing the value of prevention.

Assessment data can be used to identify gaps in your school's or district's ability to meet existing national or state standards. For example, many states have standards related to the development of pro-social skills, such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and decision-making. Yet, local data collected during your needs assessment may reveal that many students lack these skills. It is critical that these discrepancies be made known and factored into reform-related discussions.
Keep in mind that assessment data can provide a baseline for your evaluation efforts. A thorough needs assessment is likely to identify student problems that are specific to substance use and violence (e.g., high rates of alcohol use and bullying) as well as school-related problems that have been identified in the research literature as correlates of these risk behaviors (e.g., poor attendance, low attachment to school, school failure, and
school dropout). Prevention activities should be considered part of a school's overall response to these and related student problems; your evaluation can gauge changes in the rates of these problems when and if changes occur.

Most schools have planning or change management teams in place, and many routinely collect data to shape and support their reform initiatives. It is up to you to make sure that prevention data is included in the mix. Doing so will ultimately help you to "consolidate [your school's] social and academic agendas into a more coherent and integrated continuum of experiences for students -- experiences that will prepare them to be successful in life, as well as on tests" (Hixson, 1994).

How Vermont Uses Data to Link Prevention and Academics
The state of Vermont has used the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), with added questions about grades, to examine the relationship between risk behaviors and grades. Since 1999, state teams have used this data to encourage low-performing schools to consider improving their school health curriculum and prevention programs as a means of improving student achievement. Click here to compare results and trends between the 1999 and 2001 Vermont YRBS. As you review the data, consider how you might collect similar data for your school.

As you can see from this data, there is generally a negative relationship between substance use and grades. As substance use increases, grades decrease. Or, conversely, as grades increase, substance use decreases. For example, we see in the graphs Alcohol Use (Grades 8-12) by Self-Reported Academic Performance that a smaller proportion of students who get A's and B's use alcohol (37%) than students who get D's and below (67%). You cannot tell from this data, however, whether there is a causal relationship (i.e., which came first -- was it poor academic performance or substance use?). Also, you cannot tell whether both substance use and poor academic performance occurred as a result of some other variable, such as poor parenting or depression. The data for physical fighting shows a similar relationship, as does the data for making a suicide plan, though not as clearly.

In addition, when you compare the data from 1999 to 2001, the relationship between substance use and grades is similar, as are the relationships between physical fighting and grades and making a suicide plan and grades.

How an Urban School District Uses Data to Link Substance Use and Academics 
In order to see how an urban school district has used data to link substance use and academics, review the data below. (Note: The data is real, but the name of the district has been changed to "Central City.")
  Click here for graphs showing the need for substance use and violence prevention.

  Click here for a graph showing the need for improved academic achievement and related school behaviors.

  Click here for graphs showing links between substance use behaviors, academic achievement, and "lost days of learning" problem school behaviors.

 Click here to see the questions related to academic achievement that this district used in a teen survey (in addition to its usual substance use and violence questions, similar to questions in the YRBS).

As you can see, there are many approaches to making the prevention-achievement case. On Day 4 we will explore ways to develop the most appropriate and convincing case for your setting.


Please think about these questions and post your answers, comments, or questions to the Discussion Area.

1.   If the Central City School District data presented here were in fact your school's data, how would you use it to make a case for the links between prevention and academic achievement?

2.    After collecting available local and state data, what other data might you want to add in the future to more effectively make your case?


Hixson, J. (1994). Making the case for integrating prevention and restructuring initiatives. In Student assistance for the 21st century (pp. 41-44). Oak Brook, IL: Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities.

Housman, N. G. (2001). A CSR agenda: Emerging themes for research, policy, and practice. Washington, DC: The National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform.

Marx, E., and Northrop, D. (1995). Educating for health: A guide to implementing a comprehensive approach to school health education. Newton, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

The National Commission on the Role of the School and the Community in Improving Adolescent Health (1990). Code blue. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Boards of Education.

This completes today's work.