Success for Kansas Students was formed to help Kansans understand and resolve what may be the greatest challenge facing our state – a serious student achievement problem that shows no sign of improving without major changes.
Citizens have been told that Kansas has some of the best performance in the nation but in reality, Kansas is only about average overall in a nation that doesn’t perform very well. The United States is ranked #29 in average performance on international student achievement tests.1
Most national rankings are based on state averages, which are artificially inflated or reduced due to large achievement gaps for low income students and also because there are significant demographic differences among the states. Comparisons of each demographic group (income, race, etc.) tell the real story and even there, the ‘good’ rankings are deceptive. For example, Kansas is ranked #16 for Low Income 4th Grade Math proficiency, but only 27% of those students are proficient.
ACT scores also put Kansas near the middle of the fifty states. Scores are not published by income level but the ethnic comparisons also reveal large achievement gaps. And to put these NAEP and ACT achievement gaps in perspective, it will take centuries to close some of the gaps at the current 10-year pace and some gaps would never close. It’s not that low income students and minorities are incapable of learning; they most certainly are, but they and their families haven’t had equal access to learning opportunities for generations.
State assessment results are also disappointingly low. The State Board of Education and the Kansas Department of Education developed new performance standards effective with the 2015 school year:
Level 1 – not performing at grade level
Level 2 – performing at grade level but not on track to be considered college-ready
Level 3 – performing at grade level and on track to be considered college-ready
Level 4 – performing above expectations and on-track to being college ready
Declaring a student to be at grade level but still needing remedial training to be college-ready is an oxymoron that also creates another opportunity for a false sense of high achievement. The following charts show results for 10th Grade English Language Arts (ELA) and Math on the 2015 state assessment. The chart showing grade level performance tells a decidedly different story than the chart of students who are on track to be college-ready.
The education system that produced these alarming, relatively stagnant outcomes received very large funding gains under the school finance system that was in place since 1992. Per-pupil funding set a new record of $13,124 in the 2015 school year and was 45 percent greater than inflation-adjusted funding over the period. The Legislature dramatically increased At Risk funding intended to close achievement gaps for low income students but they grew worse.
One of the world’s leading experts on school funding, Dr. Eric Hanushek of The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, peer-reviewed a study of the Kansas At Risk program that came to this conclusion: “Despite the fact that over $3.6 billion was spent on the at-risk program over the past 23 years, the achievement gap between low-income and not-low-income students is:
• Universal – the gaps appear in all available measures that control for income level, including state assessment scores and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
• Significant – the achievement differences are consistently in the 30 percentage point range, and
• Persistent – the gaps have remained approximately the same since 2006, despite a more than 7-fold increase in annual state at-risk funding.”2
Dr. Hanushek also offered this comment. “This report on at-risk funding in Kansas accurately identifies what is a national problem. While we directly fund a number of programs to improve the education of at-risk students, we never follow-up to see that the money is used effectively. If we are going to solve this problem of achievement gaps, we need to fund programs to support at-risk students but to hold schools accountable for results.”3
The economic vitality of communities and individual students is at stake, and continuing to do the same things over and over again (at ever-increasing prices) is not the answer.
1 Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann, “Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain”
2 David Dorsey, “At-risk funding: Increased funding failed to increase achievement”