On Becoming “At-Risk” Through Drug Education

How Symbolic Policies and Their Practices Affect Students
Evaluation Review, August, 1995.

This large scale student-centered, evaluation of the California Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Education (DATE) program shows how a state policy directed toward students “at-risk” for substance abuse shapes perceptions, influences program directions, and affects both “at-risk” and “thriving” students. Qualitative data analysis revealed that a risk-oriented policy from the state influenced educators to use the risk factor model to shape services and identify “at-risk” students. Despite high implementation levels of services like Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), few (if any) positive effects on either “at-risk” or “thriving” students were found. Although the program was directed to assist “at-risk” students, identification often preceded detention, suspension, or expulsion. For two reasons, researchers question the validity of the risk factor model as an effective school based substance “abuse” prevention tool: (a) the risk factor model is inherently difficult to implement, and (b) it is misused as an individual diagnostic tool. Implications are discussed.

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