A recent editorial by Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker contains several themes of self-congratulation that require a second look. Her article is Thank teachers for hard work, dedication as printed in the opinion section of The Wichita Eagle.
Perhaps the most harmful of Dr. DeBacker’s statements is her claim of rising student achievement: “One of the remarkable stories in Kansas education is student achievement. For 10 years straight, Kansas public school students have shown improvement on state reading and math assessments.” A look at the record, however, should temper our enthusiasm.
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.
This is not new news to the education establishment in Kansas, as reported in New Kansas test scores not good news and elsewhere. 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 are around 40 percent deemed to be “proficient.” That’s quite a difference in standards.
In her op-ed, DeBacker also praised Kansas schools for the proportion of students taking the ACT college entrance exam and for the good scores they received. What she left out was the fact that only 26 percent of Kansas students that take the ACT test are ready for college-level coursework in all four areas that ACT considers. (See Most Kansas students not ready for college.) While this result was slightly better than the national average, it means that three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses.
In introducing her article, DeBacker mentioned “a growing movement that questions the value of public education.” We as a state would do better if the public school establishment, which she heads, would honestly and truthfully report the condition of Kansas education — the good and the bad.