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Kansas schools’ achievement gap widening, but less than originally thought

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, at 6:23 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, at 6:32 p.m.

The achievement gap between minority and non-minority students in Kansas schools is widening, but not as dramatically as state education officials thought.

The Kansas Department of Education updated and reissued statewide test data Monday after discovering a calculation error related to three districts that were allowed to use ACT tests in place of state assessments.

The revised results still show a widening achievement gap among some populations, including African-American students and those who qualify for free lunch, but the dropoff is not as severe as originally reported.

In reading, the performance gap between African-American students and white students increased 3.1 percentage points, as compared to 7.5 percentage points in the results reported last month. In math, the gap widened by 1.2 percentage points rather than the 4.2 points in the original report.

The performance gap among free-lunch students and those who pay full price widened by 1.5 percentage points in reading and 0.7 percentage points in math – about a full percentage point less than the gaps originally reported.

“We got to looking at the numbers and realized there was an issue there,” said Brad Neuenswander, deputy education commissioner.

“It was a situation of not comparing apples to apples.”

At issue were three districts – Kansas City, Kan., McPherson and Clifton-Clyde – which received approval from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year to use the ACT college entrance exam in place of state assessments for high school students and the ACT Explore exam in place of assessments for eighth-graders.

In order to include results for those districts in this year’s statewide results, ACT mapped students as either “meets standard” or “approaches standard” based on the ACT, which measures college readiness, Neuenswander said.

Those scores were entered by hand into the state assessment system, which resulted in errors when some students were counted twice, he said.

In addition, ACT tests are designed as a measure of college and career readiness, he said, while state assessments measure grade-level performance.

“We support the efforts of those districts to focus on college- and career-ready measures, but we also need to be able to get an accurate picture of how Kansas students are progressing on the grade-level measures currently in place,” Neuenswander said.

Overall results from the 2012 Kansas assessments, presented during a State Board of Education meeting last month, showed declines across the board – in reading, math, science and history/government – for the first time in more than a decade.

The report marked the first decline in Kansas scores since the federal No Child Left Behind law was implemented in 2001.

Revised results released Monday include scores from state-administered assessments in grades three through eight and high school for all districts except Kansas City, Kan., McPherson and Clifton-Clyde. Eighth-grade and high school results from those districts were calculated separately and are available on the KSDE website.

Last month, state education officials said they planned to form a task force to look more closely at what they thought was a precipitous drop in test scores among African-American students, calling the data “an attention-getter.”

Wichita district leaders, meanwhile, said data for African-American students in Wichita was more positive. Black students in Wichita raised their scores 1.9 percentage points in math and fell less than 1 percentage point in reading.

On Monday, Neuenswander said the task force plan will move forward.

“Not just because it’s the first time we saw a decline (in scores), but because it’s still the right thing to do,” he said. “Even though Kansas has closed the gap over the years, there’s still a gap and we need to address it.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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