Imagine if the Kansas Department of Education issued this press release: “Students performing in the top three performance levels on the reading assessment (exemplary, exceeds standards and meets standards) increased to 87.6 percent in 2011, up from 86.3 percent in 2010. But with only one year remaining before Kansas juniors move on to the workforce, college or other forms of advanced training only 54% are able to read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension.”
That would likely cause quite a stir across the state. And yet that first sentence is exactly how KSDE characterized the results of the 2011 State Report Card, which includes these unfortunate results for the percentage of 11th grade students who, by KSDE definition, read grade-appropriate material with full comprehension.
Demographic and socioeconomic differences are known to impact achievement levels so comparing districts with significantly dissimilar student body compositions is invalid. You can, however, compare achievement levels of separate demographic groupings across districts and those details are available at KansasOpenGov.org. We collected district-level data from KSDE and posted 2006 through 2011 results for multiple grade levels, racial groupings and other demographic breakdowns.
If these achievement levels seem lower than expected, it's because the KSDE definition of Meets Standard is not ‘reads grade-appropriate material with full comprehension;’ that is the state's definition of Exceeds Standard. Kansas' reading standard is less than full comprehension of grade-appropriate material.
A student also is not required to perform accurately most of the time and have effective content knowledge to meet the Kansas Math standard.
It’s good that KSDE tests show some improvement but we do kids no favors by reducing standards and pretending to have high achievement levels. It’s no wonder universities spend millions on remedial training or that so many students drop out of college for academic reasons. It also helps explains why so many young adults have a hard time holding steady employment. They can’t read and fully understand high school-level material.
Most Kansas education officials maintain that spending more money is still the answer but that clearly hasn't been working. State aid to schools went from $1.5 billion in 1994 to $3.2 billion this year; total aid went from $2.6 billion to $5.6 billion. On a per-pupil basis, total aid went from $5,987 to over $12,000 this year. And still only 54% of Kansas juniors can fully comprehend grade-level material according to KSDE tests.
Kansans don’t have billions more and even if the money existed, we can’t keep throwing away generations of kids while hoping that achievement will continue to inch toward levels that allow graduates to be productive citizens and reach their full potential.
‘Just spend more’ isn’t the answer and in fact there is no silver bullet solution. Other states have come to this conclusion and are aggressively transforming public education by simultaneously implementing a broad array of reforms. They are providing more school choice to parents of low-income and special needs kids...expanding online learning...changing tenure and compensation laws to reward and attract effective teachers...implementing accountability systems so parents clearly understand how their students and schools are performing.
Why Not Kansas?