Kansas scores on the nationwide NAEP tests are unchanged or falling at the same time scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the recent words of Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker.
It’s true that performance on the assessments that are under the control of Kansas are rising, as shown in the accompanying chart that shows the composite score for math and reading in grades four and eight. (Scores before 2006 are not directly comparable, as the state moved to a new assessment then.)
But scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for Kansas students don’t reflect the same trend. Scores on this test, which is given every two years, aren’t rising like the Kansas-controlled test scores.
Dr. DeBacker would do Kansans a service by explaining the difference in trends between the two series of test scores. Not to mention the fact that the Kansas tests report that over 80 percent of Kansas students score at a level deemed “at or above standard.” On the federal NAEP test, the corresponding numbers — around 40 percent or less — deemed to be “proficient.” That’s quite a difference in standards. But no matter what level is deemed satisfactory or proficient, the trend of scores on the two tests don’t match up.
Kansas schools establishment advocates like DeBacker will point to Kansas’ overall high scores on the NAEP. It’s true: Looking at the gross scores, Kansas does well, compared to other states. But you don’t have to look very hard to realize that these scores are a statistical accident. It’s an unfortunate fact that minority students do not perform as well on these tests as white students. When you combine this with the fact that Kansas has a relatively small minority population, we can see why Kansas ranks well.
Compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools. In Kansas 69 percent of students are white, while in Texas that number is 33 percent. So it’s not surprising that overall, Kansas outperforms Texas (with one tie) when considering all students in four important areas: fourth and eighth grade reading, and fourth and eighth grade math.
But looking at Hispanic students only, Texas beats or ties Kansas in these four areas. For black students, Texas bests Kansas in all four. Texas does this with much less spending per pupil than Kansas.