The first line cheers “Abstinence education works! It is powerful. It brings results!” That’s what the 2006-2007 ATM (Abstinence ‘til Marriage) Education Evaluation Report claims anyway.
ATM, an Ohio-based abstinence-only-until-marriage organization, delivers their curriculum, Relationships Under Construction, to over 135,000 students in 35 Ohio counties since 2002.
So I thought I would see what results they bring. At first glance, this ‘report’ looks thorough, perhaps even scientific. They have fancy graphs, lots of numbers and bars, and even tout that the “evaluation is conducted by The Applied Research Center at Miami University, Middletown, Ohio under the direction of Dr. Robert Seufert.”
Wow, Dr. Seufert. The same Dr. Seufert who’s research supports comprehensive sex education? The same Dr. Seufert who recently published a Public Policy paper “The Future of Sex Education in Ohio: Who Decides”? Hmm, let’s see what Dr. Seufert really has to say about ATM’s evaluation.
Dr. Seufert is a very reachable guy. In fact I had the pleasure of speaking with him over the phone last week for nearly thirty minutes as he explained his thoughts on ATM’s evaluation report.
“Their results are really suspect,” Dr. Seufert said of the report. Turns out he did work with them to develop a plan to gather meaningful data and statistics regarding their program. However, ATM has not provided Dr. Seufert with control data—as Dr. Seufert explained, you need a control group in order to evaluate programs rigorously. There are other flaws with the evaluation they provide in the report, Seufert added, including the absence of follow-up data and tangible outcomes that one expects from a scientific evaluation. “Without long-term follow-up and rigorous evaluation, claims of program success may be made based on incomplete information, misinformation, or self-interest,” he said.
When I spoke with Dr. Seufert, he was still waiting for raw data from ATM to complete the evaluation. It has been since 2002 after all. It makes me wonder if ATM really did gather the data, or maybe they saw the writing on the wall.
So far, according to Dr. Seufert, ATM “hasn’t demonstrated that their program works.”