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Different Tools for Different Schools

Sponsor: Dannon Institute

A discussion with Leslie Lytle, Ph.D., R.D., Professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, University of Minnesota.

Should assessment be conducted at the district level or at each school in the district?

We suggest assessing at both the district and school level because district policies often are more liberal than measures at individual schools.

What should one consider when creating assessment tools?

Develop tools to be completed by staff members who can offer the most accurate information. For example, physical education department heads are more likely than school principals to know about district requirements for PE time at each grade level. Similarly, the food service manager probably knows the most about nutrient criteria related to available foods and beverages.

Does this mean that schools need more than one assessment form?

Schools can use a single assessment form that has clear, content specific sections. The principal can assign individual portions to staff members who have the right expertise.

What are some assessment challenges in middle schools and high schools?

The number of “competitive” foods in vending machines and on ? la carte lines may make it difficult to evaluate the healthfulness of each item being sold. We recommend a simplified checklist tool to speed up the process.

What are next steps after assessing ? la carte offerings in the cafeteria?

Summarize the findings in a useful form, for example, showing how foods compare to lists of “foods to promote” and “foods to limit.”

Who should communicate assessment results to staff, parents and the community?

Principals usually take charge of communication, which can include results from their own surveys.

What if the wellness policy cannot be fully implemented because of inadequate staffing or resources?

Try to focus on those policy measures that do not require additional staffing or resources. Start with the easy changes to get the support and momentum for change going. Of course, schools with a strong wellness council or other advocates may be able to use positive as well as negative assessment results to advocate for change.

In addition to her position at the University of Minnesota, Leslie Lytle serves as the Senior Advisor for Healthy Eating Research at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She has created tools for planning and evaluating eating behavior change interventions in children through her school-based research over the past two decades.