Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Academic achievement of homeless and highly mobile children in an urban school district: Longitudinal evidence on risk, growth, and resilience

Jelena Obradovića1 c1, Jeffrey D. Longa1, J. J. Cutulia1, Chi-Keung Chana2, Elizabeth Hinza2, David Heistada2 and Ann S. Mastena1

a1 University of Minnesota

a2 Minneapolis Public Schools


Longitudinal growth trajectories of reading and math achievement were studied in four primary school grade cohorts (GCs) of a large urban district to examine academic risk and resilience in homeless and highly mobile (H/HM) students. Initial achievement was assessed when student cohorts were in the second, third, fourth, and fifth grades, and again 12 and 18 months later. Achievement trajectories of H/HM students were compared to low-income but nonmobile students and all other tested students in the district, controlling for four well-established covariates of achievement: sex, ethnicity, attendance, and English language skills. Both disadvantaged groups showed markedly lower initial achievement than their more advantaged peers, and H/HM students manifested the greatest risk, consistent with an expected risk gradient. Moreover, in some GCs, both disadvantaged groups showed slower growth than their relatively advantaged peers. Closer examination of H/HM student trajectories in relation to national test norms revealed striking variability, including cases of academic resilience as well as problems. H/HM students may represent a major component of “achievement gaps” in urban districts, but these students also constitute a heterogeneous group of children likely to have markedly diverse educational needs. Efforts to close gaps or enhance achievement in H/HM children require more differentiated knowledge of vulnerability and protective processes that may shape individual development and achievement.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jelena Obradović, Human Early Learning Partnership, University of British Columbia, 440–2206 East Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3, Canada; E-mail:


This study, which is based on data collected by the Minneapolis Public Schools, was supported by a grant from the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (to A.M.). Preparation of this article was partially supported by National Institute of Mental Health predoctoral training grants (to J.O. and J.C.), a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from the University of British Columbia (to J.O.), and National Science Foundation Grant 0745643 (to A.M.). The authors express their deep respect and admiration for all of the MPS students, families, educators, and citizens who strive for educational excellence in the face of many adversities.