Sunday, March 26, 2006

Victimizing The Littlest Victims Of Hurricane Katrina

Thousands of children who were evacuated from the hurricane-stricken Gulf coast and are now attending public schools in Texas have now failed that state's "must pass" standardized tests:
Young Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in Texas scored considerably worse on a statewide standardized exam than Texas children, and thousands of them could be held back.

Teachers and state officials blame the low scores on New Orleans' poor school system, the trauma of being abruptly uprooted from their homes and the possibility that some of them were put in the wrong grade after arriving in Texas with no records.

The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills was given in February to third- and fifth-graders.

Third-graders must pass the reading portion and fifth-graders must pass the reading and math portions to advance to the next grade. About 38,000 Katrina evacuees are enrolled in Texas schools.

Only 58 percent of evacuees in third grade passed the reading portion of the test, compared with 89 percent of all students.

In fifth grade, 46 percent of evacuees passed the reading portion, versus 80 percent among all students.

Between the two grades, about 2,000 evacuees failed the test. They will have two more opportunities to pass the test this spring, but some worry that the learning gap is too wide to close.

"Unfortunately a lot of the children came to us two and three years behind. It's going to be a struggle for a lot of them to catch up," said Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe.

Educators and administrators warn that holding students back a grade increases the financial burden for the state, which has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on housing, healthcare and other services for the half- million evacuees who came to Texas after Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.

The TEA estimates that the state will spend up to $350 million educating evacuees this school year.

To help ease the burden on schools, the TEA announced Thursday that all federal aid sent to Texas for educating hurricane evacuees will be given to affected districts.

"Our schools have acted in good faith by taking in" the evacuees, Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley said. "They shouldn't be penalized financially for this act of kindness."
This might be one of those occasions when it would be in the best interest of the children for the Texas state legislature to find the political will to enact some sort of accomodation exempting evacuees from having to pass this year's battery of tests.

After all, until September of last year, evacuees were attending schools where instruction was aligned to Louisiana's content-area standards, not those of Texas.

It seems a little unfair to me to hold Texas schools accountable for evacuees being unable to pass Texas' tests when they've attended Texas schools for less than one year.

The kids have already been victimized by Katrina's fury; they shouldn't be victimized by the Tyranny of Tests.
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