WASHINGTON — As Army parents’ total time of deployment increased, the academic performance of their elementary and middle school-aged children fell, and local schools often didn’t know how to respond, a recent study found.

By 19 months of cumulative parental deployment — not an unusually high total after nearly a decade of continuous war in Afghanistan and Iraq — children of deployed parents faced a significant deficit compared with their peers, according to a Rand Corp. report commissioned by the Army.

Other factors seemed to matter little, including the sex or rank of the deployed parent, the number of deployments and whether the parent is reserve or active military.

“The one factor that really mattered was total time of deployment,” said lead author Amy Richardson. “There’s somewhat of a threshold when it reaches 19 months.”

Currently, average Army deployments last 12 months, down from the 15-month deployments of 2007 and 2008. The average “dwell time” between deployments for active servicemembers was less than the Army’s goal of two years, according to recent government reports cited in the Rand study.

The researchers tracked achievement test scores for 44,000 children in North Carolina and Washington state between 2000 and 2008, finding that long deployment totals for parents corresponded to low achievement test scores by children across a variety of subjects compared with their peers. Interviews with educators also showed an increase in behavioral problems.

Along with the emotional upheaval of missing their parent or fearing for the parent’s safety, there are practical reasons for the gap, Richardson said, such as work schedule issues for the remaining parent, or not having enough time to help with homework.

The findings, though grim, come with a glimmer of hope, she said. Interviews with school personnel often demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge of the problems faced by military children. Bridging the information gap — whether by the Army itself or the non-deployed parent — could do much to help.

“We heard from teachers and counselors that many times they aren’t even aware a student has a parent who is deployed until they start having academic problems or acting out,” she said.

The study findings are not surprising, said the Department of Defense Education Activity official in charge of providing supports for military-family children in public schools.

“This is validating and reenergizing what we already knew,” said Kathy Facon, DODEA chief of educational partnerships.

DODEA awards millions of dollars of grants each year to school districts with significant populations of military families to create support structures for military kids in public schools.

“We refer to military children as being resilient, and truthfully they’re quite remarkable in many ways,” Facon said. “But we have to balance knowing children are resilient and strong with making sure there are all the supports they need."

Two of those multi-year grants, worth more than $3 million, were awarded to the Clover Park School District in Lakewood, Wash., in 2009 and 2010. About 40 percent of students in the district, which operates schools on and around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, are from military families.

The money has paid for things like counseling, technology education and perhaps most importantly, said Deputy Superintendent Keith Rittel, a testing system that tells educators where students are academically when they arrive in the district.

“These kids have the potential for a tremendous amount of disruption in their lives,” Rittel said, something that can be exacerbated if they’re placed in an academic setting that’s unsuitable. The testing system means students can arrive in a classroom that is suitable, whether than means a remedial or advanced setting.

Although it’s too soon to tell the outcome, early data indicates the testing is paying off with better school performance, Rittel said.

“We can’t replace the family for them,” he said. “What we can do is make school a place of stability ... and reduce that sense they’re out of place, lost, still a stranger.”

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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