Schools and students aren’t just test scores

As thousands of students across Kansas complete their state tests, Education Commissioner Randy Watson says those who try to rank Kansas schools and student achievement based on one assessment are missing the mark. 

“What is easy to measure gives us an incomplete picture,” Watson said recently to the State Board of Education.  

Using only the Kansas Assessment Program tests to gauge student success would be like trying to improve one’s health by only losing weight, instead of also trying to improve additional health indicators, such as lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, Watson said. 

Watson also noted how using state assessments alone could mask other issues as he showed one school district with solid test scores, but below average graduation rates and high absenteeism. 

In Kansas, the issue is further complicated because Kansas changed testing regimes in 2015. 

Prior to 2015, during the No Child Left Behind era, Kansas student scores increased significantly, from 50.3 percent proficient in reading in 2000 to 87.5 percent in 2011 and from 50.3 percent proficient in math in 2000 to 85 percent proficient in 2012. 

The gains were “conspicuous,” said Scott Smith, director of Career, Standards and Assessment for the Kansas State Department of Education.  

By 2008, a national study said that while some states were setting world-class standards “most are well off the mark — in some cases to a laughable degree.” Kansas’ standards ranked 29th in the nation and received a C-minus. 

Smith said Kansas decided to change its assessments from one that gauged what a student needed to master to advance to the next grade to a test that measured whether a student was on track for college and career success. 

Kansas’ proficiency standards increased from 29th to sixth in the nation and an A grade. Not surprisingly, the tougher standards meant fewer students were in the range of what was considered proficient. 

But even that term “proficient” is squishy. “What does it mean to be proficient? It’s a matter of judgment,” Smith said. 

For example, a Level 2 ranking on state assessments is generally not thought to be proficient, but a projected ACT score from Level 2 is 19-22 on the math portion of the test. A 22 in math on the ACT is the benchmark for succeeding in college algebra. 

KASB’s Associate Executive Director Mark Tallman told the board that while educational attainment of Kansans is higher than it has ever been, educational needs to succeed in the workplace continue.

“We are always challenged to do more,” Tallman said. Here is a link to his briefing to the board. 

Additionally, Watson said Kansas has embarked on a comprehensive school redesign program that focuses not only on academics but on non-academic skills, such as perseverance, conscientiousness and teamwork.  

“Academic achievement by itself doesn’t give us the complete picture. Helping kids be successful is messy and complicated and it’s not one single data on a single day; it’s multiple data sets on multiple days,” he said. 

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