Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

Last time, we talked about the difference between Kansas and all Public Schools in the U.S. in terms of the NAEP reading and math assessments for 4th and 8th grade.  This analysis looked at the values for all students.

Today, we are going to look at the gap in performance between those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches under the National School Lunch Program versus those who do not qualify.  For public school students in the nation, this is the closest thing we have to a direct measure of students’ socioeconomic status.  The gap between performance for high and low income students indicates how successful the education system is at providing an equitable education for all students.

The comparison group we are using for this analysis is slightly different than what we used for the last one based on the available data.  Previously we were able to only include public school numbers at the national level, but for this analysis we will be looking at the total U.S. average for comparisons.

So, this analysis will examine the question, “Is Kansas doing better at providing equitable education for low and non-low income students than the nation as a whole?”

Scores

The chart above shows the average gap between scores for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and scores for students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.  The orange lines indicate the average for the United States, and the blue lines indicate the averages for Kansas.

The first thing to notice is that across time, the gap has been fairly consistent at around 20-25 points.  The second thing to notice is that over time, the gap for Kansas has been very close to, but just under, the gap for the United States.

From 2015 to 2017, however, the gap for Kansas students taking the 4th grade math exam decreased.  In 2015, the gap for Kansas was closer to the U.S. average than in any previous year, but it started moving away again in 2017.  This patterns was similar for 4th grade reading, but the gap for Kansas was actually higher than the gap for the U.S. in 2015, but dropped back below it in 2017.

The gaps for 8th grade reading and math declined for Kansas in 2015, but increased again in 2017 to almost the same as the U.S. average.

This data suggests that Kansas Public Schools have historically been about as successful at ensuring equitable education for low income students as the nation has, and that the gap in scores suggests more efforts are needed.  In addition, the gap for 4th grade students in Kansas is decreasing, while the gap for 8th grade students is getting bigger.

Percent at Basic or Above

The chart above shows the average gap between the percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who scored at Basic or above and the percent of students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who scored at Basic or above.  The orange lines indicate the average for the United States, and the blue lines indicate the averages for Kansas.
The patterns seen for these percentages closely follows those described for the scores; Kansas has historically had a smaller gap than the nation, but they have gotten closer together in recent years.  In 2017, 4th grade results showed a decrease in the gap for Kansas, but 8th grade results showed an increase in the gap for Kansas (after decreases seen from 2013 to 2015).

This data again suggests that the gaps in performance, both for Kansas and for the nation, are too large, and have shown little substantial change over time.  In Kansas,  this data suggests more efforts need to be made in the higher grades to see a decrease in the gap, and that the efforts being made in the lower grades needs to continue.

Percent at Proficient or Above

The chart above shows the average gap between the percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who scored at Proficient or above and the percent of students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch who scored at Proficient or above.  The orange lines indicate the average for the United States, and the blue lines indicate the averages for Kansas.
Though the patterns seen for this metric are very similar to the trends described for the scores and for the percent performing at Basic or above, the differences between Kansas and the U.S. are much smaller for the students performing at Proficient or above.  Further, the gap for 4th grade reading was higher for Kansas than for the nation in 2013 and 2015, but dropped below the national average in 2017.

Summary & Conclusion

Taken all together, these comparisons suggest that:
  • Nationally, efforts are needed to help lower income students perform at the same levels as higher income students.  
  • The differences between how lower and higher income students perform in Kansas is very similar to the differences nationwide.  
  • Historically the differences between lower and higher income students’ performance in Kansas has been lower than the differences nationwide, but recent years have seen Kansas’ gap exceed that for the nation.
  • From 2015 to 2017, in general the gap for Kansas students in 4th grade decreased, and moved further below the national average than in recent years.
  • From 2015 to 2017, in general the gap for Kansas students in 8th grade increased, and moved closer to the national average than in recent years.
In Kansas, we have spent much of the last decade discussing the importance of an education that is both adequate and equitable.  The NAEP data suggests that, whether the education is adequate or not, it is not equitable.  The Kansas legislature and public school system have a responsibility to make efforts to improve equity, but it is important to note that the discrepancies we see in Kansas closely mirror those seen nationwide.  This suggests that national efforts are also needed to improve the education that lower income students are receiving to enable them to perform as well as their higher income peers.