Kansas school spending advocates point to years of rising test scores as evidence that increasing school spending in Kansas has been a good investment. They also use this as a reason as to why school spending should not be cut further, and that taxes in Kansas ought to be increased to pay for additional school spending.
But there’s a problem. The test scores that school spending advocates use — tests administered by the state of Kansas — are almost certainly misleading.
The basic problem is that scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show achievement by Kansas students largely unchanged in recent years. This is at the same time that scores on tests given by the Kansas education establishment show great improvement.
In describing the 2009 NAEP scores for Kansas fourth graders in mathematics, the National Center for Education Statistics writes “The average score for students in Kansas in 2009 (245) was not significantly different from their average score in 2007 (248) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (232).”
In 2009, 46 percent earned a score that is considered proficient. In 2007, 51 percent did. That’s a decrease, but one termed “not significantly different” by NCES.
So these test scores have actually gone down in recent years, although by small amounts.
For eighth grade math, NCES describes the Kansas scores like this: “The average score for students in Kansas in 2009 (289) was not significantly different from their average score in 2007 (290) and was higher than their average score in 2000 (283).”
The percentage considered proficient dropped to 39 percent from 40 percent, a difference again considered not significant.
The Kansas-administered tests show a different picture. The numbers are much higher, and their moving upwards. On the Kansas math assessment test for fourth graders, 84.7 percent were considered to be “at or above standard.” This number increased to 86.6 percent in 2009.
For Kansas eighth graders in math, 70.8 percent met the same standard in 2007, increasing to 77.2 percent in 2009.
Is there a discrepancy? Can scores on Kansas’ own test be increasing while scores on federal tests decline?
It’s an important question, especially since the period covered by these test scores was a period when spending on Kansas schools increased rapidly. Further, school spending advocate base their arguments on the Kansas tests, not the NAEP tests. If the school spending lobby used the NAEP scores as their measure of performance, their arguments that increasing school spending results in increased learning would be realized for the sham it is.