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Elisa “Beth” McNeill co-chairs prestigious national group that developed National Health Education Standards

The National Consensus for School Health Education updated the national standards for teaching health to pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students

Elisa “Beth” McNeill, PhD, professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, co-chaired the National Consensus for School Health Education. This prestigious group of leading health organizations and educators developed the third edition of the National Health Education Standards, which were released in August.

These updated standards offer model guidance for health curriculum, instruction and assessment for pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

“What’s unique about health standards as compared to typical education standards is that they are much more focused on skills,” McNeill said. “It’s not about knowing how to eat healthy, exercise or implement coping skills for stress management, but actually doing it.”

Setting the standard

The National Consensus identified eight standards to include in the 2022 National Health Education Standards. “The first standard is solely dedicated to information, because you have to have the foundational content to perform skills,” McNeill said. “The remaining seven standards are focused on building skills with the child demonstrating that they have successfully acquired this information.”

These eight standards are:

  • Standard 1: Students comprehend functional health knowledge to enhance health.
  • Standard 2: Students analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, social media, technology, and other determinants on health behaviors.
  • Standard 3: Students demonstrate health literacy by accessing valid and reliable health information, products, and services to enhance health.
  • Standard 4: Students demonstrate effective interpersonal communication skills to enhance health.
  • Standard 5: Students demonstrate effective decision-making skills to enhance health.
  • Standard 6: Students demonstrate effective goal-setting skills to enhance health.
  • Standard 7: Students demonstrate observable health and safety practices.
  • Standard 8: Students advocate for behaviors that support personal, family, peer, school, and community health.

The standards are structured to support the student’s development level. “Each standard has performance expectations, which are divided by grade levels to cover kindergarten through grade two, grades three through five, and grades six through eight,” McNeill said, adding that the standards specify what students should be able to do by the end of each grade.” “This is a highly skills-based approach because we have learned that health is not learned until it’s performed. These standards are built very much on functional knowledge and applying the knowledge.”

Dr. Beth McNeill
Dr. Beth McNeill

These new standards extend and refine previous iterations of the standards. The initial standards were developed in 1995 and then revised in 2007. “The primary changes from the first two versions and the current version involve more focus on skills and also have performance expectations,” McNeill said. “The writing team did an incredible job of challenging the learning at different levels, eventually incorporating higher order, more complex health skills at higher grade levels.”

Expert participation

McNeill collaborated with University of Alabama Professor Emeritus David Birch to co-chair the National Consensus, which was tasked with developing the updated standards. This group is comprised of health education leaders across the United States, including K-12 health teachers and curriculum directors, state education agency health education directors, national nongovernmental organization leadership, curriculum and textbook developers, higher education health education faculty who work in teacher preparation and higher education management, and other education and public health experts.

Multiple organizations were invited to participate in the National Consensus. The groups that elected to participate were the American School Health Association, Eta Sigma Gamma, the Foundation for the Advancement of Health Education, the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, the Society for Public Health Education, and the Society of State Leaders of Health and Physical Education.

The National Consensus’ work involved a management group that provided oversight, a development group, and an expert review group. The development group, which was comprised of approximately 20 people, drafted the standards, created artifacts, identified professional development opportunities, and developed a website for dissemination. The expert review panel, which involved 50 leaders in health education as well as a representative from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provided critical feedback on the development group’s work.

The development process included multiple rounds of review. Internally, the development group and expert review group completed two reviews of the work. After the third iteration of the standards was completed, the National Consensus distributed the proposed standards to participating organizations’ membership and to other professional organizations in the field of health for their input. “The collective input from these various reviews was invaluable in shaping the final product that can be used as model guidance for developing and delivering high-quality health education,” McNeill said.

The guidelines, which are designed for the betterment of health education, are available for free to policymakers, school districts, educators and other interested parties. These guidelines serve as benchmarks and can be altered by states and local school districts to fit their unique needs. Additionally, the National Consensus is producing additional support resources, which also will be available for free on its website.

Media contact: Dee Dee Grays, grays@tamu.edu, 979.436.0611

Dorian Martin

SPH - Director of Communications and Alumni Affairs

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