By Dr. Walt Chappell
Member, Kansas State Board of Education
Before Kansas voters can decide who should represent them in the state Legislature, we must have accurate information. This is especially important when it comes to which candidates will make responsible decisions about how to improve our schools.
Some campaign mailers and editorials claim that student achievement has improved and funding for Kansas schools has been drastically cut. Neither is true.
To give the impression that more students are “proficient” in reading and math, the State Department of Education lowered cut scores in 2005. Since then, high school students only have to answer 50 percent of the state math questions correct to be labeled “proficient.” They also claim that any student who gets 40 percent on the state science test “Meets Standard.”
As anyone who has gone to school knows, getting 40 or 50 percent on a test is failing. Yet, by lowering the bar so low that nearly all students appear to be “proficient,” the state education staff have mislead the legislature, voters, and parents into thinking that our students are learning what they need to know to compete for jobs in the global economy.
But, this spring’s results on the ACT test show that only 29 percent of Kansas students are ready for college. On the national NAEP test, less than 40 percent are proficient. Even though Kansas scores on these national tests have stayed low for 15 years, state bureaucrats claim 86 percent of our K-12 students are now “proficient.” Education lobbyists then repeat just the inflated state test scores to demand more funding for schools.
Due to the economic recession, the base state aid for schools was cut some under governors Sebelius and Parkinson but federal stimulus money made up the difference in most districts. Under Governor Brownback, the Legislature added money back into school budgets.
However, over the past 10 years, school districts have spent $2.7 billion more to teach the same number of students. That is an increase of 56 percent. They also held back $874 million in their bank accounts last year. With more of our tax dollars being spent and kept each year to educate Kansas students while test scores remain flat, why are lobbyists claiming that schools need more money?
Significant changes must be made to prepare our students for 21st century jobs. But using taxpayer money to sue the state to increase funding and repeating false claims about student achievement will not get Kansans where we need to be.
So, it is up to the voters to elect responsible legislators, judges and school board members who will ask tough questions, demand honest answers and make the hard decisions needed to improve our public schools.