Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kansas State Board of Education to discuss test scores

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

Confusion over the way statewide test results were reported last month is prompting the Kansas State Board of Education to discuss how those numbers should be reported in the future.

The state board’s regular monthly meeting is being held today and Wednesday in Topeka.

The confusion arises from the fact that three school districts no longer use the standard state assessments in certain grades.

Kansas City, McPherson and Clifton-Clyde school districts have received state and federal waivers in order to use alternative tests from ACT.

Initial findings that were released last month showed that for the first time in more than a decade, overall scores declined in the four key subject areas of reading, math, science and social studies.

They also showed a widening achievement gap between whites and minorities, and between upper-income and lower-income students.

But those initial findings were skewed somewhat by the fact that three districts had taken different tests.

Kansas City, McPherson and Clifton-Clyde school districts have received waivers to use alternative ACT tests at the middle and high school levels instead of the standard state assessments.

That presents a problem in calculating statewide trends. The Kansas City district alone accounts for 20 percent of all black students in Kansas, nearly 11 percent of all Hispanic students and more than 7 percent of all economically disadvantaged students.

The State Department of Education later released revised their figures to adjust for the different tests. The adjusted results showed statewide average scores changed little from the year before.

The revised scores still showed a widening achievement gap, but state officials believe some of those increases were due to a larger and more diverse group of students taking the more difficult ACT assessments.

In Lawrence, overall scores were essentially unchanged from 2011 to 2012, according to data posted on the KSDE website.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or better was roughly equal to or above the state average across most grade levels.

Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker has appointed a task force to figure out what caused the sudden decline in scores and the widening achievement gap.

Some school advocates have suggested they are the result of recent cuts in funding for public schools. But others have suggested that test scores have reached a natural plateau and that occasional fluctuations up or down can now be expected.

Since 2001, student scores in reading and math have been used to determine whether schools were meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

That law required individual buildings, districts and the state as a whole to show they were making “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) toward the goal of having all students proficient in those subjects by 2014.

This year, however, the U.S. Department of Education granted Kansas a waiver from No Child Left Behind, which means the state is no longer bound to meeting the yearly AYP benchmarks.

Instead, the state will use the annual tests to compute a different type of score called an Assessment Performance Index for each building and district.

That index will take into account multiple measures of student growth and performance and will be used to construct unique, individualized improvement plans for each district.

In other business, the state board will:

• Receive an update on the ongoing development of a new evaluation system for teachers and administrators called the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP).

• Hear a presentation on bullying by Kansas University psychology professor Dr. Robert Harrington.

• Hear an overview of the new U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guidelines for school meals.

• And discuss and review issues likely to arise in the 2012 interim legislative committees.