A weekend interview with ...
... Jennifer Baggerly, a University of South Florida assistant professor for counselor education. She spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her recent research report, The Impact of the 2004 Hurricanes on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test Scores: Implications for School Counselor.
First off, just tell me a little bit about how you decided you wanted to study the effects you studied.
Previous research studies have shown that after hurricanes, children have emotional distress, psychological distress, and children have even said that they have a hard time concentrating in school and they don't do as well on tests after hurricanes. So I wondered if children's concerns and disruptions after hurricanes would disrupt their FCAT scores. Because I heard after ... the 2004 hurricanes - Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan - that many people were afraid the students' FCAT scores would plummet.
Did you look at students who were directly affected by the hurricanes, or everyone in Florida?
What I did was I looked at students who were directly impacted by the hurricanes and compared them to the students who were not in a direct hit area. So I looked at students who were in schools that had a direct hit of a hurricane in their area, from one of the four 2004 hurricanes, vs. students who lived in Florida but did not have a direct hit in their area.
And you found what?
I found that practically, basically, there was no practical difference. There was a small difference in their FCAT scores, but not enough difference to have really any practical significance. I'm trying to explain it in layman's terms. Not enough to make a big difference in their actual test scores.
Does that take into account the students who were so affected that they had to move away?
Yeah. We also looked at the students who moved. And actually, the students who moved away ended up doing a little bit better than the students who stayed in the hurricane areas.
Do you know why? Did you interview any of these students?
No, I didn't interview them. It was just looking at the FCAT scores. But it may be because they were in a perhaps more of a stable school and that their lives were able to, they were able to focus on their school work rather than being in a place where maybe they had to live with another family member until their house was fixed, or maybe go without electricity and water. Because I think the children who may have stayed in the areas, if they had to leave their home and maybe double up with somebody, that may have caused more distraction than if they had gone somewhere and resettled.
Did you find that this result was surprising to you in any way? Were you expecting something different?
Yes. I was surprised by this because I thought their FCAT scores would have a big decrease based on the other research studies. So I was surprised, yet at the same time relieved that it didn't have a big difference. Probably the main reason it didn't have a big difference is because of the time in between the hurricanes and when the FCAT is taken. Because the hurricanes came in October, and the FCATs began in February-March.
Now, you looked at this from the school guidance counselor perspective. What kind of message do you think this has for school guidance counselors when they are looking at things such as hurricanes and how to deal with the FCAT?
I think the message for school guidance counselors will be to first off reassure the students, parents and teachers that the research shows that there most likely will not be a long-term impact on the FCAT scores for most students. But they still need to provide some crisis intervention to help the students immediately after the hurricanes. Because we in Florida have a very good crisis response procedure. That might have actually helped the kids, the fact that for example school counselors and other support people came from around the state to help districts that were really impacted. That probably helped the students get back on track faster. Also, the guidance counselors do need to look at individual students who have devastating impact, for example having their home totally destroyed or having the death of a family member. They still should look for those type kids and run more intensive intervention services.
Do you plan to look at this any further? Or do you feel like your findings are enough that you don't have to?
I would like to look at the standardized test scores from Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama after Hurricane Katrina. Because Hurricane Katrina was a much larger impact, had much more devastation than our 2004 hurricanes did. So I would like to look at their test scores. So I am working on that.
See a related story from the St. Petersburg Times here.