More evidence of low Kansas school standards

apple-wormA study of school testing standards has found that Kansas has low standards compared to other states.

Kansas ranked forty-fourth among the states, meaning that seven states had standards judged to be weaker than Kansas’. The remainder of the states and the District of Columbia have stronger standards.

The study also found that the Kansas standards have become weaker in recent years.

The research was published by Education Next, a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. It may be read at Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards: Students proficient on state tests but not national.

It’s important to note that this survey compares a state’s own standards to the NAEP test, which is the same for the entire country. It does not measure the performance of the students. Instead, it serves to compare the strength — and honesty — of a state’s test against a common standard:

Note that an A or a B does not indicate a relatively high performance by students in the state. Rather, it indicates that the state’s definition of proficient embodies higher expectations for students. It is best thought of as a high grade for “truth in advertising,” telling citizens frankly how well students are performing on an internationally accepted scale, just as states have pledged to do by joining the CCSS consortium.

The low ranking of Kansas does not come as a surprise. A few voices in Kansas have been raising concern about standards in Kansas, as in my articles Kansas school standards and other states and Kansas has lowered its school standards. Kansas Policy Institute has contributed a policy analysis titled Removing Barriers to Better Public Education: Analyzing the facts about student achievement and school spending.

Recently The Economist reported this in its article Raising the bar: A battle over school standards:

Here’s a multiple-choice question: if the federal government penalises states where pupils do badly in school, but lets the states themselves set the pass mark, will the states a) make the tests harder; or b) dumb them down?

Historically, the answer has been b). The National Centre for Educational Statistics (NCES), a federal body, looked at how the states’ definitions of “proficiency” at maths and reading compared with its own rigorous one. For grade 4 reading in 2009, not one state held its pupils to as high a standard (see map). Fifteen states labelled a child “proficient” when the NCES would have called her skills “basic”; 35 bestowed that honour on children performing at “below basic” level.

Despite this evidence, the Kansas public school establishment says something different. Here’s what a group of Kansas school district superintendents, including Wichita’s John Allison, wrote last year in a newspaper op-ed: “Historically, our state has had high-performing schools, which make Kansas a great place to live, raise a family and run a business.”

This claim of “high-performing schools” is based on, as multiple sources have shown, standards that are among the weakest in the nation, and standards that have declined.

Two years ago Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane M. DeBacker penned an op-ed that claimed 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.”

As we now know, the tests that DeBacker relies upon are among the weakest in the nation. Under her tenure as commissioner, these standards have become weaker.

It would be one thing for the Kansas public school spending establishment to mislead Kansas voters and taxpayers about the strength of Kansas school standards. That’s bad enough, assuming that these education leaders are aware of this information. (If they’re not aware, that’s an entirely different problem.)

But when Kansans are given a false impression of the performance of Kansas schools, it’s the children that are harmed most.

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