TOPEKA — Kansas won’t issue any report cards this year on how well its public school students performed on standardized reading and math tests after cyberattacks and other problems this spring, the State Board of Education decided Tuesday.
The board’s decision means there won’t be a report on how students scored overall statewide or how students in each school district or individual schools scored. The state typically releases such reports each fall to help the public judge how well Kansas’ schools are performing.
The University of Kansas center that designed the tests told the board last month that it should not release data for individual schools and districts because of problems administering the tests from March 10 to April 10. About two-thirds of the reading tests and one-third of the math tests were completed during the period, and state Department of Education officials concluded data wouldn’t be consistent across the state.
The U.S. Department of Education must sign off on Kansas’ decision, because federal law requires states to administer annual tests and improve students’ results. But interim state Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander said he’s confident federal officials will accept Kansas’ reasons for not reporting scores.
The board’s vote was 9-0. However, board member John Bacon, R-Olathe, expressed frustration with the problems and suggested the board review its contract with KU’s Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation, which received $4.6 million during the 2013-14 school year.
“We need accountability, and we need a way to measure students’ progress,” he said. “I think it’s one of our keys that we use to measure how well we’re doing.”
The center designed this year’s computerized, Internet-based tests to follow multistate, Common Core academic standards that were approved by the board in 2010. The tests moved away from multiple-choice questions and toward open-ended problems.
Several board members said this year’s tests were pilots so that their value in assessing schools and helping teachers would be limited anyway.
“You’ve done a really good job of turning this disaster into a great learning opportunity,” board member Jim McNiece, R-Wichita, told KU center director Marianne Perie.
The KU center doesn’t know the exact source of the cyberattacks. Perie said the incidents involved attempts to push huge amounts of data into the Kansas testing system to crash it. Some appear to have originated outside the U.S, she said. Schools also saw technical problems such as students not seeing complete test questions or being unable to complete tests.
“We chose to use a test that used the Internet; that’s susceptible to attack. Everybody knows that,” Bacon said. “Next year, if we get attacked again, then what?”
The state still plans to release general information other than scores. For example, it may make general assessments about areas in which students appear to be performing well and topics where they struggle.
Perie said she understands the board’s frustrations over the problems with the new computerized testing system and told reporters they’re being addressed. But she also noted that earlier this year, two boxes of papers from an English proficiency test administered to Kansas City, Kan., students fell from a delivery truck, and most were destroyed.
“There is no error-free or risk-free testing these days,” she said.