KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Students attending Defense Department schools continue to score higher than the national average despite the high number of deployments in the past three years.

Terra Nova standardized test results released in July show students who attend Department of Defense Education Activity schools scored 10 to 20 points above average in 37 of the 45 subtest scores this past spring.

Student scores since 2003 have not changed drastically even though tens of thousands of military parents have had to deploy to places such as Afghanistan and Iraq for months at a time.

That surprises some administrators, who anticipated scores might dip because of the stress and the breakneck pace of operations across the globe.

“We don’t seem to see overall fluctuations because of high periods of deployment,” said Janet Rope, administrator for system accountability and research for the Defense Department schools in Arlington, Va.

“Lots of schools have looked at that individually to say, ‘Oh, I’m worried about this group of students because their parent’s unit is deployed.’ But they have not come back to us and let us know there were any drastic changes, which we find quite remarkable.”

Students in some grade levels have actually made gains in some subjects the past three years, statistics provided by the Department of Defense Education Activity show. For example, third and fourth grades have increased scores by as much as eight points in math and science, two subjects that students across the nation have scored lower than education experts would like.

Administrators in Europe had braced for the possibility of scores taking a nose dive as thousands of parents deployed to Iraq.

“That would be something we would have a concern about, but we just haven’t seen that,” said Candace Ransing, deputy director for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe.

Teachers and administrators are not sure why students continue to perform well when their parents are deployed. Carol Czerw, chief of education for DODDS-Europe, and others speculate that a combination of support programs and a widespread concern for students with deployed parents have helped boost achievement during a vulnerable time.

“I attribute that to the fact that our schools are so on top of that issue,” Czerw said. “Our counselors provide additional support. Our schools that have a lot of deployed kids just do so many things in addition to the three R’s. And they do that because they know the kids need it.”

Schools had summer programs this year to help students with deployed parents. Ramstein Air Base schools implemented a deployment buddy program that brings together older students and elementary students with deployed parents.

Students also are accustomed to change in their lives, more so than their counterparts in U.S. public schools.

“I think our kids are especially resilient,” Rope said.

The overwhelming support available for families on base has also helped, she said.

Scores at schools with high numbers of parents deployed the past couple of years have seen mixed results. For example, students at Vilseck and Bamberg elementary schools in Germany have dealt with a number of deployments but have done well in nearly all five subjects on the standardized tests. Vilseck third-grade scores for social studies leaped 31 points over the past three years, while Bamberg third-grade scores in science jumped 17 percentage points over the same period.

At Würzburg Middle School, however, scores have dropped slightly. In science, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade scores from 2002 to 2005 have gone down between 3 and 8 points. Principal Denise Leach said in the past two years, between 70 percent and 75 percent of the students have had at least one parent gone on deployment.

Sue Gurley, chief of staff for the European region, cautioned that lower test scores at some schools might not necessarily be attributed to deployments. Other factors, from how much sleep a student had the day of the test to the classroom curriculum, should be considered.

“It’s just a snapshot of how our kids are doing,” Gurley said.

While the Defense Department schools system has not done a formal study on the impact of deployed parents, the Pentagon is researching the topic, Rope said. An Army researcher is studying individual students who have parents deployed to see how well they perform in the classroom when their mother or father is gone.

More about the testing ...

Every spring, students in Defense Department schools take Terra Nova standardized tests.

The exams cover five subjects — reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science — and are taken across the United States to help pupils and administrators see where their pupils stand in relation to other students. Teachers and administrators take the data and use it to develop improvement programs for the upcoming school year.

This past spring, students at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe scored 21 to 27 points higher than average in six subtest scores and nine points higher in two subtest scores, statistics show.

Math and reading continue to be the areas Defense Department schools in Europe would like to improve.

“On average, we score way above the nation, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have some students who are struggling," said Janet Rope, administrator for system accountability and research for the Defense Department schools in Arlington, Va.

“So we try to provide all sorts of support for them as well.”

— Scott Schonauer

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