States that absorbed large numbers of students fleeing last year’s hurricanes will get a pass this school year on making sure those students reach federal targets for reading and mathematics, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced last week.
Six states are likely to get a reprieve for the 2005-06 school year on counting the achievement of students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which pummeled the Gulf Coast region last August and September.
Schools and districts that do not make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because of displaced students’ test scores should be granted some relief from sanctions that might result, Ms. Spellings said.
Georgia has already received notification of its participation, while Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee are expected to receive approval soon, Ms. Spellings said.
In those states “that have large numbers of students who missed as much as six or eight weeks of school in some cases, obviously [there was] a lack of curriculum alignment” between the students’ schools, the secretary said in a roundtable discussion with reporters on May 17.
Though Mississippi ranks as one of the states with the highest numbers of hurricane-displaced students, the state did not apply for that consideration for technical reasons, said David L. Dunn, the chief of staff to Ms. Spellings.
Last fall, Ms. Spellings sketched out two ways for schools affected by the hurricanes to receive relief from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. Schools that took in large numbers of displaced students were required to create a special subgroup for them, but states could seek waivers for that subgroup if needed. Meanwhile, schools or districts directly affected by the storm could seek an exemption from the consequences of not making AYP, the secretary said. (“Schools Get NCLB Relief From Storms,” Oct. 5, 2005.)
Texas, whose schools had taken in more than 45,000 displaced students at one point and are now serving about 38,000, applied for both types of relief, said Criss Cloudt, the associate commissioner for accountability and data quality at the Texas Education Agency. Texas has proposed that districts closed by Hurricane Rita for a certain period of time and in a county declared a federal disaster area be given a “not rated” label if schools fail to make AYP.
Chad Colby, a spokesman for the federal department, said Texas was on track to receive both types of relief.
Education officials in Georgia, which took in nearly 10,000 students displaced by the hurricanes, said they were pleased to receive the flexibility.
“These students being displaced, as well as the fact that we did not have these students for the entire academic year, made it difficult to measure how our schools were doing in regard to those particular students,” said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education. “We feel at least in a year we’ll be able to get a grasp on their progress and begin to measure it.”
The No Child Left Behind law requires that schools test students annually in grades 3-8 in reading and math and at least once in high school. Schools and districts must make AYP for their students as a whole and for specific subgroups of students, or they face sanctions.
Lack of Records
Under the new flexibility plan outlined for the six states, hurricane-displaced students must still be tested and schools must comply with the NCLB’s required test-participation rate, which mandates that 95 percent of students overall and in separate subgroups be tested. Scores from the hurricane-displaced student subgroup must be reported even though they won’t count in the AYP computation.
That’s prudent, said Cory Curl, the director of policy and planning at the Tennessee education department, who said teachers in her state rely on students’ past educational data to help inform their teaching.
“Because these children are coming in and we don’t have that history of data, we wanted to test them first under our assessment system to allow teachers to understand these students’ needs,” she said.
Joel Packer, a lobbyist with the 2.8 million-member National Education Association, said states may wind up needing more than a one-year exemption for displaced students.
“It depends on how those students score this year, and if they’re really much lower, below other subgroups, one year may not be enough,” he said.
Though most students have already taken year-end state tests, results for subgroups are not yet available in most cases.
Mitzi Edge, a spokeswoman for the 83,000-student Fulton County, Ga., school district near Atlanta, said her district took in about 1,200 hurricane-displaced students. She said her district is comfortable with the one-year period of flexibility for dealing with those students.
“They came in the middle of the year and they had to take tests based on Georgia curriculum, so they were at a disadvantage,” Ms. Edge said. “But by now these students are no longer referred to as Katrina kids. They’re Fulton County students, and next year we will count them as Fulton County students.”
A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2006 edition of Education Week as Displaced Students’ Test Scores Won’t Count for AYP