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Student Drug Tests Aren't The Answer


420 Staff
The Bush administration thinks testing is the silver bullet for any problem confronting our young people.

First, the No Child Left Behind Act preached the gospel of standardized testing to raise student achievement. Now, the Office of National Drug Control Policy is promoting student drug testing as the solution to drug abuse. More than $25 million has been earmarked in the 2006 federal budget for such programs.

At School Drug Testing Summits this spring in Dallas, St. Louis, Missouri, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., drug czar John Walters and deputy Mary Ann Solberg hyped drug testing as a way to deter young people's use of everything from alcohol to marijuana.

Scientific evidence, however, contradicts their claims. The largest peer-reviewed study of student drug testing clearly stated that it does not deter use. A University of Michigan study in 2003 included four years of data from 722 middle and high schools and nearly 100,000 students. A follow-up report included data from seven schools with random drug testing of their entire student body. The findings were the same. Said researcher Lloyd Johnston: "Schools are very pressed for funds, and ... the results of our investigation raise a serious question of whether drug testing is a wise investment."

That was the conclusion of the school board in Guymon, Okla., too. In 2002, the board dumped a random drug-testing program for athletes and students in extracurricular activities after just three years. "We're a small district, with 2,400 students, and we were spending $18,000 to $24,000 a year on testing," said school board President Scot Dahl. Testing picked up a few positive results and might have deterred a few students, he said. But there were unintended consequences: Students focused on beating the tests, sometimes with dangerous strategies. Dahl said one parent told him, "I caught my daughter drinking Clorox."

Legally, schools may conduct random drug tests. The U.S. Supreme Court in Earls v. Tecumseh upheld random drug tests of students participating in after-school activities. But Earls didn't trigger a rise in student drug testing – just 19% of schools have programs. And teen drug use has been gradually declining since 1996. So why is the Bush administration peddling drug testing?

The overriding concern of educators these days is to meet the near-impossible goals set by No Child Left Behind. Pushing student drug testing as a panacea for teen drug abuse not only ignores good science. It also diverts attention and resources from the real education challenges that communities confront.

Annette Fuentes is an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jun 2005
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2005 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Contact: editor@usatoday.com
Website: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/index.htm
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