Correlates of Sexual Experience among a Nationally Representative Sample of Alternative High School Students. (Research Papers)

By Shrier, Lydia A.; Crosby, Richard | Journal of School Health, May 2003 | Go to article overview

Correlates of Sexual Experience among a Nationally Representative Sample of Alternative High School Students. (Research Papers)


Shrier, Lydia A., Crosby, Richard, Journal of School Health


Sexual risk behavior declined for adolescents the past decade, but some groups of adolescents remain vulnerable to sexual risk and other health-risk behaviors. (1) One group of potentially vulnerable adolescents includes those who attend alternative schools in lieu of expulsion or placement in the juvenile justice system, or those who enter alternative schools in place of rehabilitative programs. Alternative schools also serve students with social and emotional needs that cannot be met in mainstream schools. A substantial number of adolescents attend alternative schools; between 1997 and 1998, more than 400,000 students were enrolled in 2,800 alternative schools. (2)

Findings from the 1998 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Alternative High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (ALT-YRBS) revealed that most alternative school students (85.5%) had engaged in sexual intercourse compared with almost one-half (48.3%) of students in regular schools. (3) However, researchers have not investigated the correlates of sexual experience among alternative school students. Identification of these correlates may help the process of effectively targeting sexual risk reduction interventions to alternative school students. This study investigated demographic and behavioral correlates of sexual experience among a national probability sample of alternative school students.

METHODS

Sample

The ALT-YRBS was a nationally representative survey from the population of US students enrolled in 1,390 alternative high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia. The 1998 ALT-YRBS survey was the only time the survey was administered. Data from the 1998 survey were released to the public in 2000. Eligible schools were those designated as public and private alternative high schools with one or more grade levels and that operated independently. Alternative schools that offered innovative programs, or that were schools of choice for students, were excluded.

Data were collected between February and May 1998 using a three-stage cluster sampling technique. The primary sampling unit included 121 geographical clusters of alternative high schools. Using probability proportionate to school enrollment size, 48 primary sampling units were selected. For the second stage, probability proportional to school enrollment size was used to select 142 schools. Schools with substantially greater enrollments of Black and Hispanic students were purposively oversampled. Finally, classes within schools were selected randomly for participation. Response rates were 81.0% (schools) and 81.9% (students). A total of 8,918 students from 115 schools comprised the sample. A more detailed description of the sampling technique used for the ALT-YRBS was published elsewhere. (4)

Measures

The outcome of interest--student sexual experience--was measured with one dichotomous item: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse?" Multiple items assessed other health-risk behaviors. Principal components analysis identified six factors from these assessments: weapon carrying; tobacco use; cocaine, inhalant, and needle use; alcohol and marijuana use; participation in sports; and fighting. Items with significant loadings were dichotomized to reflect occurrence or nonoccurrence of these risk behaviors, then summed to create six composite variables.

Key demographic variables assessed included: age, gender, and race/ethnicity. Some 6,037 students (68.3%) responded to questions assessing the demographic and behavioral variables. A final demographic variable (school region), designated by CDC, indicated if the schools were located in urban, suburban, or rural counties.

Data Analysis

Data were weighted to adjust for nonresponse and varying probabilities of selection. With the exception of an association between student age (a continuous variable) and sexual experience, chi-square tests were used to determine bivariate significance.

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