New Kansas test scores not good news

Kansas school spending advocates point to years of rising test scores as evidence that increasing school spending in Kansas has been a good investment. They also use this as a reason as to why school spending should not be cut further, and that taxes in Kansas ought to be increased to pay for additional school spending.

But there’s a problem. The test scores that school spending advocates use — tests administered by the state of Kansas — are almost certainly misleading.

The basic problem is that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show achievement by Kansas students largely unchanged in recent years. This is at the same time that scores on tests given by the Kansas education establishment show great improvement.

In describing the 2009 NAEP scores for Kansas fourth graders in mathematics, the National Center for Education Statistics writes “The average score for students in Kansas in 2009 (245) was not significantly different from their average score in 2007 (248) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (232).”

In 2009, 46 percent earned a score that is considered proficient. In 2007, 51 percent did. That’s a decrease, but one termed “not significantly different” by NCES.

So these test scores have actually gone down in recent years, although by small amounts.

For eighth grade math, NCES describes the Kansas scores like this: “The average score for students in Kansas in 2009 (289) was not significantly different from their average score in 2007 (290) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (283).”

The percentage considered proficient dropped to 39 percent from 40 percent, a difference again considered not significant.

The Kansas-administered tests show a different picture. The numbers are much higher, and their moving upwards. On the Kansas math assessment test for fourth graders, 84.7 percent were considered to be “at or above standard.” This number increased to 86.6 percent in 2009.

For Kansas eighth graders in math, 70.8 percent met the same standard in 2007, increasing to 77.2 percent in 2009.

Is there a discrepancy? Can scores on Kansas’ own test be increasing while scores on federal tests decline?

It’s an important question, especially since the period covered by these test scores was a period when spending on Kansas schools increased rapidly. Further, school spending advocate base their arguments on the Kansas tests, not the NAEP tests. If the school spending lobby used the NAEP scores as their measure of performance, their arguments that increasing school spending results in increased learning would be realized for the sham it is.

Related: Are Kansas school test scores believable?, Kansas school test scores: can they be reconciled with national tests?, and Even the New York Times recognizes testing fraud.

7 thoughts on “New Kansas test scores not good news”

  1. You’re comparing apples to oranges. The percentage of those found proficient is not the same as the scores on the tests going up or down. You could have fewer people deemed proficient but the average score could rise. Also, remember that on the NAEP tests, the bar is raised every year. So comparing one year to the other is less useful than you might think.

  2. I reported the raw scores along with the percent proficient.

    Also, what is your basis for believing that the bar is raised every year? The overview of the NAEP states: “The assessment stays essentially the same from year to year, with only carefully documented changes. This permits NAEP to provide a clear picture of student academic progress over time.”

  3. The fact is Bob provided the raw data and in each case listed above, scores went in the same direction as proficiency. Perhaps you have some data to back up the claim that one can go up and the other down?

    Even in that unlikely case, it would be further evidence of stagnant scores as proficiency couldn’t skyrocket without scores also increasing.

    So while unlikely hypotheticals are interesting, they serve only to detract from the real issue identified here; test scores remain stagnant at best (lower at worst), even with billions more being spent on education in the past decade.

    Where’s all the money gone?

  4. As the education intellectuals place more weight on liberal arts than on life skills or the sciences…we will continue our decline in world-wide competitiveness. Proof positive: a higher percentage of young adults now have a college degree than ever before in our nations history – basically devaluing said degree. Their reward is educational mediocrity and a large school loan hanging over their heads.

  5. What is missing in this discussion is what exactly do they need more money for? What is it that is not being provided.

    I had a son with special education needs. There was never an arbituary figure thrown out on what they needed to spend on him. They first determined exactly what he needed.

    I taught math. I can tell what is needed: a classroom with heat and electricity, a chalkboard with chalk, textbooks printed before 1980, and someone with a math degree (not a math ed degree.

  6. The state NAEP results gives a scale score, which is a number . It also gives the percentage of students who are proficient.

    Consider a classroom in which the average score is a B, which the teacher gives to students who score 80 to 89 percent correct. In one year, the average raw score is 83, and in the next, it’s 88. In both years, the letter grade is the same: B.

    NCES, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education, has historical data for the national test as well as for states. It looks like Ed has made it more difficult than it was in the past to find the information.

    1. Go to this link: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/states/
    2. Click on “Accessible version”
    3. From the drop-down menu box labeled “Select a State,” choose Kansas.

    Or you can go here (http://kansaseducation.wordpress.com/2010/01/08/assessments-through-the-years/) and download a one-page PDF, which contains the same information.

    To summarize:

    The percentage of fourth-grade students scoring “proficient” increased a lot from 2000 to 2003, and slightly after that. Eighth-grade scores have showed some improvement, too, though not as much.

    Reading scores have barely moved (grade 4) and may have slightly declined (grade 8).

    About one-third of students are proficient (grade level) in reading.

    About half are proficient in fourth grade, but that drops to only a third in the eighth grade.

    Certainly nothing too impressive, overall.

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