Short-term student achievement levels show mixed resultsScott Rothschild
Although Kansas long-term educational attainment (adult high school completion, postsecondary participation and four-year college degrees) has continued to increase, shorter term measures like grade-level assessments have been distinctly mixed.
Kansas Education Commissioner Randy Watson has been briefing the State Board of Education on these results, and with Board Chair Kathy Bush, recorded this video on performance results for KASB.
In brief: state reading and math assessments are basically flat for the past two years after several years of decline, but national tests of a sample of Kansas students are down. ACT college readiness scores are down, but more students are taking the test, which usually depresses results. More students are taking and passing college courses in high school or in the first two years after high school, and the high school graduation rate is up.
These results follow eight school years (2008-09 to 2016-17) when total school funding fell behind inflation and two years of increased funding after the Legislature began responding to the Gannon school finance decision in 2017-18 and 2018-19. This year is the third of a six-year funding plan scheduled to run through 2023.
Policymakers in the Legislature and State Board of Education, advocacy groups and the public will be watching to see how increased funding is affecting educational outcomes. Low student performance was a key part of the Gannon lawsuit. The Kansas Supreme Court agreed that additional funding was needed to improve performance, but critics say funding is not the key factor in educational outcomes.
While federal law requires states to use test scores to measure school performance, the Kansas State Board of Education has been focusing on improving a broader set of measures, including graduation rates, postsecondary success, along with kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, social-emotional growth and civic engagement.
Here are results in more detail:
Kansas State Assessments. These reading and math tests are given to almost all students every year in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Students are reported at four levels.
Level 1 indicates that a student shows a limited ability to understand and use the mathematics skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness. Level 2 indicates that a student shows a basic ability to understand and use the mathematics skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness. Level 3 indicates that a student shows an effective ability to understand and use the mathematics skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness. Level 4 indicates that a student shows an excellent ability to understand and use the mathematics skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.
Levels 2 and higher has been sometimes described as “on grade level,” but the State Board’s goal is for most students is to reach Levels 3 and 4, which is considered on track for postsecondary readiness.
The current tests were adopted in 2015. Performance generally declined from 2015 to 2016 and from 2016 to 2017, and has been basically flat the past two years, from 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019.
Specifically, the percentage of all students tested scoring at level 1, the most unsatisfactory level, increased from 24 percent in math in 2015 to 29 percent in 2017, then dropped one point to 28 percent in 2019. The percent at Level 1 in English Language Arts increased from 22 percent in 2015 to 29 percent in 2017 and increased one point in 2019.
The percentage of students at Levels 3 and 4, considered “on track” to be postsecondary ready, has been more stable in math, increasing from 32 to percent in 2015 to 34 percent in 2017, dropping back to 33 percent in in 2018 and remaining at that level in 2019. The percentage of all students at Levels 3 and 4 in ELA dropped from 41 percent in 2015 to 37 percent in 2017 and 2018 and rose one point to 38 percent in 2019.
National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP tests a small sample of students in each state at fourth and eighth grades only in reading and math every other year. As previously reported, Kansas NAEP scores dropped from 2017 to 2019, continuing a general downward trend since 2009 and 2011. In the prior decade, Kansas NAEP scores generally had increased from 2003, when all states were required to participate in NAEP, to 2009.
In other words, Kansas assessments of all students in grades 3 to 8 and one high school grade showed no major change between 2017 and 2019, while the NAEP tests of a sample of students at grades 4 and 8 eight only showed a decline.
ACT and SAT tests. Most Kansas students take the ACT test – about 70 percent of high school seniors take it as either a junior or senior. ACT results declined from 2018 to 2019. The composite score fell from 21.6 in 2018 to 21.2 in 2019. The percentage of students scoring at “college ready” on all four benchmarks dropped from 29 percent in 2018 to 27 percent in 2019, down from a high of 32 percent in 2015.
But ACT scores are complicated by the rise in the number of seniors reporting taking the tests, which increased from 23,708 in 2015 to 25,684 in 2019 – an 8.3 percent, while K-12 enrollment has been basically flat. That number rose in 2019 after the state began paying for all students to take the ACT. Because most students take the test as juniors, the full impact of that change will not be felt until next year, when those students are seniors.
A much smaller number of Kansas students take the SAT test – about 1,200, mostly students planning to attend college out of state on the east or west coast. As a result, those students are among the top achievers in Kansas. Over 80 percent met the SAT “college-ready” benchmark.
Postsecondary Participation and Completion. While test scores are generally either declining or flat, more Kansas students are participating in and earning postsecondary credit. The number of high school students receiving postsecondary technical credentials and certificates has increased from 3,475 in 2011 to 13,675 in 2019. The number of credit hours earned increased from 28,000 to 105,000, and the number of certificates earned increased from 548 to 1,803.
Although the Kansas State Board of Regents has not yet posted data for 2019, the number of academic credits (not technical education credits) earned increased from 52,276 in 2014 to 77,110 in 2016, dropped to 64,881 in 2017, then increased again to 70,676 in 2018.
Another measure of postsecondary growth is the Postsecondary Effective Rate, which multiplies the high school graduation rate by the percentage of graduates that have either completed a postsecondary technical credential or academic degree or are enrolled in a postsecondary program two years after the graduation year. As a result, this report lags two years behind. For 2017, the most recent year, the effective rate was 48.6 percent, up two percent from 46.5 percent in 2013, the first year tracked.
Graduation Rate. The 2019 graduation rate has not yet been released, but this measure has shown long-term improvement. The current formula, adopted in 2010, increased from 80.9 percent that year to 86.9 percent in 2017 and 87.5 percent in 2018.