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Study: Effects of Community Traumatic Events Can Reduce Student Performance

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Seth Gershenson and Erdal Tekin
Seth Gershenson, left, and Erdal Tekin

Community traumatic events can reduce student achievement, according to a new study conducted by AU School of Public Affairs faculty members Erdal Tekin and Seth Gershenson.

The study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), analyzes the 2002 “Beltway Sniper” attacks as a natural experiment, identifying harmful effects on student achievement in the Virginia public school system. The paper speculates that reductions in student achievement may be driven by reduced time in the classroom caused by teacher and student absences, school closures, increased stress, and other disruptions of classroom routines.

The findings indicate that the attacks significantly reduced student performance in schools within five miles of the attack, with the most significant results in third grade reading, and third and fifth grade math proficiency. Altogether, the event caused a decline in school proficiency rates of about five to nine percentage points. The effects appear to be entirely driven by lower achievement in schools with higher minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

The study also found that the negative effects of the trauma faded in ensuing years. The results have the potential to assist communities in addressing the fallout of community traumas by being proactive in properly supporting students, particularly at the elementary level, inside and outside of the classroom.