Are Kansas school test scores believable?

Kansas public school officials are proud of the achievement of Kansas schoolchildren on state tests. We need to ask, however, whether this accomplishment means that Kansas children are really learning.

In the document Kansas Education Summary: A Snapshot of Kansas by the Numbers from January 2009, Alexa Posny, Ph.D., the Kansas Commissioner of Education, wrote this about our state school test scores: “Across all of Kansas, the percent of students reading at the proficient level or above has risen from 59% in 2000 to 84% in 2008. This is a 25% gain. Math has risen from 50% to 81%, a 31% gain.”

But when we look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), we see a different story that’s in seeming conflict with the commissioner’s glowing assessment.

The chart below shows the NAEP test scores for Kansas students. The message we get from this chart is that some scores have gone up, but some have gone down. Overall, we can say that the scores are on a slight — very slight — upward trend.

These scores are a different metric than what Commissioner Posney cited. There, she referred to proficiency, not a score on a scale. Proficiency means the state has judged that a student scored well enough to be called, well, proficient.

But here’s the question that needs an answer: How can the percent of students judged proficient be rapidly increasing at the same time that NAEP scores are barely increasing or decreasing?

Across the country, states are reporting rising scores on their state tests, but NAEP scores don’t match that record. What’s happening? There could be a number of causes, the most likely being a large dose of window dressing by state education officials.

My post Even The New York Times Recognizes Testing Fraud quotes that newspaper as follows:

[A study by Policy Analysis for California Education] analyzed state-level testing practices from 1992 to 2005. It found that many states were dumbing down their tests or shifting the proficiency targets in math and reading, creating a fraudulent appearance of progress and making it impossible to tell how well students were actually performing.

The article also referred to the NAEP tests as “currently the strongest, most well-respected test in the country.”

It’s a question that deserves an answer: Is Kansas dumbing down the test or shifting proficiency targets?

Posney, in her report, also wrote “I have used the word phenomenal when describing the achievement of our students across all grade levels in Kansas.”

I hope that the performance of our state’s public school students is truly that: phenomenal. The evidence, however, is not in favor of such a glowing assessment.

Kansas NAEP scores


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