Last Wednesday, April 18, the Wichita Eagle editorial page made an outrageously false claim about Kansas Policy Institute, saying we were 'playing fast and loose with the truth. Our crime? We have a fact-based opinion with which they disagree!
We asked for an immediate meeting to make our case and request a retraction, but the Opinion Page Editor, Phillip Brownlee, said he wasn't available until next week but didn't believe a meeting was really necessary, saying "It's just that The
Eagle editorial board (and the Kansas Dept. of Ed, school districts and many
other observers) thinks the ads are misleading. Even your last piece to us was
misleading, implying that the state had lowered its standards because the cut
scores had changed and its terms (proficient, satisfactory) had changed. The
cut scores changed because the test changed, not because the standards were
lowered. And the terms changed in order to match the NCLB terminology (again,
it didn't lower standards)."
The Eagle editorial board, KSDE, local districts and others don't like the ads because they disclosed that proficiency does not require full comprehension of grade-appropriate material. There is nothing whatsoever misleading about stating that fact. The 'misleading' part is that parents hadn't been told that standards were that low or that they had been reduced.
Our last piece to the Eagle didn't 'imply' that standards were reduced in 2006, it stated it for a fact based on documents we acquired from the Kansas Department of Education. According to the Kansas Assessments in Reading and Mathematics 2000 Techical Manual, the five assessment categories were once (highest to lowest) Advanced, Proficient, Satisfactory, Basic and Unsatisfactory; at some point between 2000 and 2006 (when the cut scores were changed) they were changed to Exemplary, Exceeds Standard, Meets Standard, Approaches Standard and Academic Warning.
As explained in this full-page ad we ran in the Eagle on Sunday, April 22 (yes, we had to spend a lot of money to get the truth in front of Eagle readers), the former categories of Proficient and Satisfactory were combined into a single category now called Meets Standard. (As KSDE says, "...a proficient student has satisfactory comprehension...."). A student formerly had to fall into one of the top two categories to be proficient, but now only has to be in the top three categories.
The KNEA (teachers' union) likens the current definition of Meets Standard to a 'C.' If they are consistent in their logic, they must also believe that a student previously had to earn a 'B' to be considered proficient.
KSDE lowered the cut scores in 2006 - the minimum percentage of correct answers required for inclusion in each category. Some people believe lower cut scores are not necessarily indicative of lower standards (arguing that the test could have been made infinitely harder) but there is nothing in the KSDE Technical Manual that says so. Proficiency under the 2000 standards required having at least 87% correct answers; now it is as low as 63%.
But even if you discount the change in cut scores, there is no denying that the U.S. Department of Education says Kansas has some of the lowest standards in the country. They say Kansas' 4th grade Reading standard is lower than 40 other states; the 8th grade standard is lower than 35 other states.
If that's not enough proof, there's more.
That same KSDE 2006 Technical Manual says the standards were changed to such extent that no comparisons to prior years' achievement results should be made. (Sometimes it's important to note what people don't say; we find no place where they say the standards were made more difficult in 2006, yet no comparisons to prior years should be made. If standards were essentially the same, comparisons would be OK...but if they were lowered....)
Of course, written policy saying comparisons to prior years results should not be made does not stop KSDE and local districts from doing it anyway. (Imagine what editorial writers would say about KPI if we did something like that.)
Who do you think is 'playing fast and loose with the truth'?