Kansas school finance case based on inadequate standards

The just-released Gannon school finance decision in Kansas concludes that not long ago Kansas schools were functioning adequately. But data on Kansas school standards says something else.

The court’s decision, in its conclusion, states: “At the beginning of FY 2009 (July l, 2008), the evidence established that the Kansas K-12 school system was functioning as a K-12 school system should in order to provide a constitutionally adequate education to Kansas children.”

It’s going to take some time to read and understand the decision, and even longer to see what effect it has on legislation, spending, and most importantly, the wellbeing of Kansas schoolchildren. It seems as though the court used student performance on Kansas state assessment data in making its decision. If so, that could be a problem. That’s because at a time when Kansas was spending more on schools due to an order from the Kansas Supreme Court, the state lowered its standards for schools. This is what the National Center for Education Statistics concluded about Kansas school standards in the most recent version of its report Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales. (NCES is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations, and is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.)

The mapping project establishes a relationship between the tests each state gives to assess its students and the National Assessment of Education Progress, a test that is the same in all states. The conclusion of NCES is that Kansas school standards are relatively low, compared to other states.

Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states. Click for larger version.
Kansas school standards for grade 4 reading compared to other states. Click for larger version.
For Kansas, here are some key findings. First, NCES asks this question: “How do Kansas’s NAEP scale equivalent scores of reading standards for proficient performance at grades 4 and 8 in 2009 compare with those estimated for 2005 and 2007?” For Kansas, the two answers are this (emphasis added):

“Although no substantive changes in the reading assessments from 2007 to 2009 were indicated by the state, the NAEP scale equivalent of both its grade 4 and grade 8 standards decreased.

Also: “Kansas made substantive changes to its reading grade 8 assessment between 2005 and 2009, and the NAEP scale equivalent of its grade 8 standards decreased.

In other words, NCES judged that Kansas weakened its standards for reading performance.

More information about how NCES judged other Kansas standards may be found here. A video presentation may be viewed at Kansas school standards have changed.

This is not the only study of school testing standards that found that Kansas has low standards compared to other states. In another study, Kansas ranked forty-fourth among the states, meaning that seven states had standards judged to be weaker than Kansas’. The remainder of the states and the District of Columbia have stronger standards. The study also found that the Kansas standards have become weaker in recent years.

The Strength of State Proficiency Standards, excerpt for Kansas.
The Strength of State Proficiency Standards, excerpt for Kansas.
This research was published by Education Next, a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution. Other sponsoring institutions are the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, part of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. It may be read at Despite Common Core, States Still Lack Common Standards: Students proficient on state tests but not national.

It’s important to note that this survey compares a state’s own standards to the NAEP test, which is the same for the entire country. It does not measure the performance of the students. Instead, it serves to compare the strength — and honesty — of a state’s test against a common standard:

Note that an A or a B does not indicate a relatively high performance by students in the state. Rather, it indicates that the state’s definition of proficient embodies higher expectations for students. It is best thought of as a high grade for “truth in advertising,” telling citizens frankly how well students are performing on an internationally accepted scale, just as states have pledged to do by joining the CCSS consortium.

Kansas standards are judged to be weak in two different assessments. Why would a Kansas court rely on these standards?

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