Gulf Coast students who have remained in Texas public schools since fleeing Hurricane Katrina in 2005 have made steady academic gains and now surpass some of their Texas peers on exams in reading and math, according to a study by the state education agency.
Between spring 2006 and spring 2009, students displaced by the hurricane steadily improved their reading and mathematics scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. The study, conducted by Texas Education Agency officials and released April 6, found that students who were forced to relocate because of the August 2005 storm performed better than other Texas students who were most similar to them based on demographic and economic indicators, as well as on performance on 2006 state exams.
The study also found that the displaced students were, in many cases, performing as well as—or, in some cases, slightly better than—all students in Texas by their fourth year of enrollment in the state’s public schools. In math, the relocated students had not caught up to the performance of all Texas students, but they made strides in closing a gap in the 5th grade that was as high as 20 percentage points to one that is now about 6 percentage points, according to the TEA’s findings.
The study examined displaced students who were enrolled in grades 3, 5, and 8 in 2006 and who remained enrolled in Texas public schools in 2009.
The school districts in Houston and Dallas took in most of the roughly 46,000 Gulf Coast students, mostly from Louisiana, who relocated to Texas following the hurricane.
In 2006, 67 percent of 3rd graders who had relocated to Texas from the Gulf Coast passed the state reading test. That total rose to 93 percent in 2009. In the 5th grade, 61 percent passed reading in 2006, while 94 percent did in 2009. Only 48 percent of 8th graders passed the reading exam in 2006, but that number had improved to 91 percent last year.
In a press release, Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott attributed the students’ progress to the state’s educators, who he said had been “making a real and lasting difference in the lives of these children.”
The study’s authors point out that the students displaced by Hurricane Katrina had received special services, additional resources, and extra attention from educators in Texas schools, all of which may have contributed to their improved academic performance.
But at least one education scholar has raised questions about the study’s methodology.
Ed Fuller, an education researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, told the Austin American-Statesman that there were “flat-out methodological flaws that pretty much make the [statewide comparison] useless.”
Mr. Fuller told the newspaper that there were problems with the way the TEA selected its sample of similar Texas students to use for comparison with the displaced students. He also said that using the displaced students’ 2006 test scores—the first year they took the exam—as the jumping-off point could have led to exaggerated gains. Those students, he suggested, may have done poorly because of trauma related to the storm and extended absences from school.
TEA officials who conducted the study acknowledged that the displaced students’ low test scores in 2006 could have been caused by negative aftereffects of the storm that included being out of school for weeks or months.
Mr. Fuller declined to be interviewed by Education Week to more fully discuss his criticism of the study. In an e-mail, he said that the TEA was working with him to address his concerns about the methodology.
A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 2010 edition of Education Week as Storm Refugees Gained in Texas Schools, Study Says