Homeless students in the state struggle to achieve academic standards

Dec 12, 2017

Homeless and formerly homeless students continue scoring poorly on state assessments. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says a new report was issued by The Education Trust-New York. 

“It essentially means that the does not have fixed and stable housing,” said Abja Midha, deputy director with The Education Trust-New York.

The organization's latest research finds homeless students statewide are half as likely to meet state academic standards as their peers who have never been homeless.

Buffalo school classroom.
Credit WBFO News file photo

“The proficiency rates for students who are formerly homeless are nearly the same as the achievement levels for those students who are currently homeless,” Midha explained.

Ten percent of all students, who were either homeless or previously homeless, took the state's 3-8 Math & ELA state tests last school year. 

Midha tells WBFO News here in Buffalo the patterns statewide "hold true" for the city district.

“Ten percent of homeless students and nine percent of homeless students in Buffalo meet the state benchmarks in ELA, as compared to 18-percent for students who have never been homeless. Similarly for math – seven percent of homeless students in Buffalo and nine percent of formerly homeless students meet the state’s benchmarks, again compared to about 18-percent to students who have never been homeless before and so I think the patterns we are seeing statewide ring true in Buffalo as well when we are looking at those currently homeless and formerly homeless students,” responded Midha.

“This data should serve as the starting point for a serious conversation about how we can better serve all students in our community, particularly those who are most vulnerable,” said Brenda McDuffie, President and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League. We should look at best practices for supporting homeless students and preparing them for the brightest possible future. The overall well-being of the Western New York Region is dependent on all of our children having an equitable opportunity to be successful.”

But it's not just an urban issue. Some suburban communities outside the city district in Erie and Niagara Counties indicated nearly 600-test ELA test takers who were homeless or formerly homeless. Those numbers were similar for math.     

Classroom learning in West Seneca schools.
Credit WBFO News file photo

The Education Trust recommendations range from improving transportation to increasing access to Early Childhood Education.

“Looking at students who are in temporary housing at the high school level and helping with the transition to post-secondary education and then a number of measures around school improvement and the Every Students Succeeds Act plan (ESSA) and that the state and the districts will be developing and then implementing, so this is, I think, an issue that the districts and the state can really tackle from a wide variety of angles,” replied Midha.

The Education Trust notes the Every Students Succeed Act (ESSA) gives the state a clear definition that schools must raise achievement for all students.  

Early childhood learning.
Credit WBFO News file photo

Monday the New York State Board of Regents is proposed a $1.6 billion funding request. State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said that includes reaching the states neediest students and providing quality pre-K.

Commissioner Elia stated they are focused on four areas; Equity, Early Learning, ESSA and Efficiency.

The following information is provided by The Education Trust-New York:

According to the coalition’s analysis, based on unpublished data from the results of the 2015-2016 state assessments in English language arts (ELA) and math:

  • Statewide, homeless students are half as likely to meet state academic standards compared to students who have never been homeless.
  • The proficiency rates for formerly homeless students are nearly the same as achievement levels for currently homeless students.
  • Students in temporary housing can and do achieve at high levels in New York State, with enormous variability in how schools are serving homeless students. Our analysis found 164 schools where proficiency levels for homeless students exceeded the statewide average for all students in ELA (38 percent proficiency in 2015-16) and 169 schools where proficiency levels for homeless students exceeded the statewide average for all students in math (39 percent proficiency in 2015-16).

ESSA draws attention to the needs of students experiencing homelessness in two important ways:

  • Under ESSA, states are now required to separately report on academic outcomes for students in temporary housing, including grade 3-8 assessments and high school graduation rates. This reporting transparency can help ensure that homeless students’ performance and needs will be considered as part of the school improvement process.
  • A number of changes to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the federal law promoting school stability for students in temporary housing, were also included in ESSA. These changes provide additional protections for students experiencing homelessness to ensure that they have access to the same educational programs and services as their permanently housed peers, such as access to early childhood education and school transportation.

The coalition’s policy brief calls on the state to use the levers in ESSA to take specific steps to improve outcomes for students experiencing homeless, including:

  • Improving transparency on student outcomes, resources, and access
  • Ensuring that school improvement plans address the needs of students experiencing homelessness or who previously experienced homelessness
  • Leveraging the new chronic absenteeism and school discipline accountability indicators
  • Improving equity in high school course access and transition to postsecondary education
  • Making transportation more accessible
  • Improving access to early childhood education