Tests find gaps in education
Marion County students fare better in some areas, but newly released assessment scores indicate that less than six in 10 Kansas public school students have minimal skills deemed necessary after high school.
Superintendents across the county say assessment scores are just one measure of achievement.
“One test does not sum up a student and their knowledge,” Peabody-Burns superintendent Antoinette Root said. “A student needs to be looked at as a complete individual and not just a test score.”
However, David Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute, gave that argument a failing grade.
Trabert said the idea that scores were just one form of measurement “is an attempt to deflect attention from poor achievement results.
“Refusal to acknowledge that there are more kids below grade level in Kansas than are proficient is also a major barrier to improvement,” he said. “You cannot begin to resolve a problem until you admit it exists.”
All county districts fared better than the statewide average in math. All but Peabody-Burns and Marion-Florence scored better in English. All but Centre scored better in science.
The highest number of passing students — 80% —was by Goessel students in math. The lowest score — 54% —was by Peabody-Burns students in English.
Kansas assessments are scored using four levels:
- A student at Level 1 shows a limited ability to understand and use the skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.
- A student at Level 2 shows a basic ability to understand and use the skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.
- A student at Level 3 shows an effective ability to understand and use the skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.
- A student at Level 4 shows an excellent ability to understand and use the skills and knowledge needed for postsecondary readiness.
Levels 2 to 4 are considered to be grade level, but only levels 3 and 4 are proficient, Trabert said. Students at level two need remedial training to be proficient, he said.
“Most results are above the state average, but that’s frankly irrelevant to students,” Trabert said. “People aren’t hired because their district beat the state average; they are hired because of what they know. Less than half of students in Marion County are proficient in math, English and language arts, and science, and that’s cause for considerable concern.”
Every assessment — not just the state assessment — shows low and declining achievement, Trabert said, noting that 21% of Kansas graduates who took the 2022 ACT were considered college-ready in English, reading, math, and science. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress indicates that 31% of fourth-grade students and 26% of eighth-graders read proficiently.
Overwhelmingly, county superintendents said, the scores are a “snapshot” in time.
“Like all districts, we have students who are doing great and others that struggle,” Root said. “We are working with all students to make sure they receive the best education possible so students will be successful in their future endeavors.
“Testing has both positives and negatives. You have to take a look at the complete data and also the students to help determine if the scores accurately represent a student’s knowledge.”
Centre superintendent Larry Geist said that district also used Fastbridge assessments, given three or for times a year, not just once.
“Our Fastbridge scores are on a constant rise, which shows growth,” he said.
Goals for each level on the state assessment tests “are antiquated from when the push for educators was to get everyone ready for college as a postsecondary goal,” Geist said. “While we do our best to be sure they are ready for any opportunity that comes along after high school, we now know that someone seeking a career that requires an associate’s degree or even a certificate of completion will be absolutely successful if all they ever scored was in the Level 2 range,” he said.
Geist said his son spent four years in the Marines and went to college for one semester after he left the military.
“He never liked school, so he went to work for the post office,” Geist said. “He is now a postmaster and is making good money and is extremely happy with his career. His sister has a Ph.D. in school counseling and is a professor at Wichita State. She loves what she does as well. Did my son need to be at Level 3 to be successful post-secondary? No. Did my daughter? Yes. We prepare our students so that after they walk across the stage, they are ready for whatever opportunity comes along.”
Clint Corby, Hillsboro superintendent, said his district was focused on “making sure our students have the tools to use to be successful in life.”
“Every unit we teach and every activity we offer is done in order to help our students improve from the day before,” he said.
Lee Leiker of Marion-Florence said he had the unique viewpoint of having been superintendent before COVID-19 and leaving the district for five years before becoming interim superintendent.
“I can clearly see the effects of COVID. Scores are lower than they were. We have a lot of years to catch back up,” Leiker said.
That said, he too said state assessment score were just one piece of the puzzle.
“We don’t put a huge emphasis on the state assessment scores but take them seriously,” he said. “I do think it’s an accurate representation of the student’s knowledge of that day.”
Other measures such as ACT scores also are important because “there are scholarships based on those,” Leiker said.
Mark Crawford, Goessel superintendent, said his district studied results of many assessments to ensure students were on the right academic trajectory.
A district-level accreditation committee makes recommendations to the board, he said.
“It is imperative that all students have access to a rigorous and relevant curriculum,” Crawford said. “We are very serious about getting the right resources at every grade level so we can have highly engaged students striving in their journey to a future career.
“This means they absolutely need to read, write, and solve problems at high levels. Our standards are rigorous, and the assessments they take are demanding. We also know some students don’t test well. Standardized tests have their limitations.”
Goessel will put more emphasis on a kindergarten through third-grade reading program. It also is focusing more targeted interventions and tutoring for sixth- to eight-graders in math and English.
“The state gives us at-risk dollars for a reason, and we want our student performance to reach even higher levels,” Crawford said.