Katrina refugees score lower on tests
By Paul J. Weber, Associated Press
DALLAS --Young Hurricane Katrina refugees 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, a test of reading and math ability, was given in February to third- and fifth-graders, who must pass in order to move up 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, compared with 89 percent of all students. In fifth grade, 46 percent of evacuees passed the reading portion, versus 80 percent among all students.
"We've got kids who are coming into our secondary system and cannot read," Houston school board member Larry Marshall said. "Now that is a tragedy."
Between the two grades, about 2,000 refugees failed. Students who failed will have two more opportunities to pass the test this spring, but some worry 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, health care and other services for the half-million refugees who came to Texas after Katrina swamped the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29.
The TEA estimates the state will spend up to $350 million educating refugees this school year.
To help ease the burden on schools, the TEA announced Thursday that all federal aid sent to Texas for educating hurricane refugees 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."
Associated Press writer Allen Breed contributed to this report.
Paul J. Weber
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