About one in five Wichita students is on track to be ready for college-level work in math and about one in four in reading, according to results from the most recent Kansas assessment tests.
Data from the 2016 annual tests, posted online recently and mailed to local families, shows that on average, Wichita students continue to perform below their peers across the state.
More troubling, though, is that the percentage of Wichita students who scored at Level 1 – below grade level – increased this year over last in both math and reading.
Education officials cautioned that the state test – administered to students in grades three through eight and again in 10th grade – is only one measure of student achievement.
But Wichita leaders say they’re digging into results in hopes of getting more students on track for college-level work.
“Overall they are not what we would want, necessarily,” said Tiffinie Irving, assistant superintendent for learning services in Wichita.
“We are in the process of analyzing that data, breaking it down … and identifying: What is it telling us, and what can we learn so we can begin to establish some goals to improve?”
We are in the process of analyzing that data, breaking it down … and identifying: What is it telling us, and what can we learn so we can begin to establish some goals to improve?
Tiffinie Irving, assistant superintendent for learning services
Statewide, results of the 2016 Kansas assessment tests essentially stayed flat, according to education officials. About a third of Kansas students met or exceeded grade-level expectations for college readiness in math, and about 41 percent in English.
Results from the state tests are searchable by district and individual schools at the Kansas Department of Education website, at http://ksreportcard.ksde.org/.
The online report card breaks down results in various categories and subgroups as well, such as students’ race, whether they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and whether they are English Language Learners.
Among the findings for Wichita, the state’s largest school district:
▪ Younger students continue to score higher than older students on the tests. Among Wichita third-graders, for example, about 75 percent met or exceeded grade-level expectations in math. Among high-schoolers, only 44 percent met grade-level standards.
▪ Across grade levels, there remains a significant achievement gap between white and non-white students. Nearly 57 percent of African-American students and 47 percent of Hispanic students in Wichita scored below grade level in math, compared with 31 percent of white students and 19 percent of Asian students.
▪ In Wichita and statewide, more students scored in the highest and lowest brackets. Test officials said that’s likely a result of new “adaptive” assessments, which tested students based on how well they progressed through the test questions.
Denise Kahler, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education, said results are about where state officials thought they would be this year, given the more rigorous tests and higher standards implemented in recent years.
Last spring marked the second year for technology-enhanced, Common Core-aligned state tests, which aim to better measure students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
“As teachers and schools are teaching to the standards vs. teaching to the test, you’re absolutely not going to have those spikes in scores that we saw in the past,” Kahler said.
I think we really need a good three years of this data under our belt before we can really start to see any trend lines or make any decisions on this.
Denise Kahler, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education
“I think we really need a good three years of this data under our belt before we can really start to see any trend lines or make any decisions on this.”
She added that the state assessment is “one data point” among many used to measure student achievement, and that Kansas students continue to perform well compared with peers nationwide on the ACT and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“When you look at Kansas’ overall performance over the years, the performance isn’t going down,” she said. “Our students are still performing, but we’re now pushing them and asking them to perform at a higher level.”
Wichita officials have cautioned schools not to compare the 2015 and 2016 data “because we’re talking about two separate assessments,” said Irving, the Wichita official.
Nonetheless, they’re poring over this year’s results in hopes of better focusing curriculum and instruction.
Some results continue to be bleak. At West High School, for example, more than 70 percent of students scored below grade level in math and more than 50 percent in reading.
“It is definitely a concern if we have any of our students not meeting the outcomes that we are working towards,” Irving said.
“We are looking at what our data is telling us and creating a very strategic plan on how we are going to address and monitor and support (schools) to improve in those areas.”
One fact already gleaned from the data, Irving said: Wichita students must develop higher-level thinking skills to advance to Level 3 or 4 on the state tests, which indicate that a student is on track to being college-ready.
A new districtwide focus on rigor – creating high expectations, digging deeper into subject matter and not moving on until students understand the material – is part of that effort, she said.
“This is just another data point that confirms this is an area of focus for us,” Irving said. “We need to identify what instructional practices we should be doing to help our students become the more critical thinkers, so that they are able to score in those higher levels.”
Help for low performers
In past years, under No Child Left Behind, high-poverty schools faced consequences for not meeting yearly goals on state assessments.
Those no longer exist under the Every Student Succeeds Act. But in coming weeks, as part of a requirement under the new federal law, Kansas will publish a list of low-performing schools and must develop a plan to help them improve.
“We want to get supports to the schools that need it right now,” said Beth Fultz, assistant director of assessments for the state. “That could be more funding. It could be trying to help them identify people or programs that can help them.”
A list of schools selected to be part of the Kansas Learning Network cohort group will be named publicly in December, Fultz said. It will replace current focus and priority schools, which received additional funds to boost academic performance.
Wichita had 15 focus schools and 13 priority schools, for which it received about $1.5 million in additional federal funds per year. That money was earmarked for programs such as after-school tutoring or summer reading initiatives.
In addition to reading and math assessment data, state officials will consider factors such as poverty, chronic absenteeism, suspensions and expulsions, English Language Learners and the number of students who move from school to school, said Kahler, the state education official.
More test changes
Neal Kingston, director of the University of Kansas’ Achievement and Assessment Institute, said changes to the state test last year make it a more accurate gauge of student performance.
And more changes are in store for next year.
Because of concerns from teachers, school officials, parents and advocacy groups about the amount of time students spend taking tests, the state has reduced the material being assessed by about 60 percent this school year.
The spring tests, which had been administered over four class periods, will take place over two class periods. The maximum time students spend taking state tests is expected to decrease from 14 hours to about six hours.
The KU test center also has launched voluntary “interim assessments,” which teachers can use to measure how students are doing on specific standards anytime during the year.
“That far removal of the year-end test from the day-to-day teaching and learning experiences does not serve our educational purposes nearly well enough,” Kingston said.
So far this school year, more than 28,000 interim tests have been administered, he said.
Kingston echoed educators’ perennial warning that state test results should not be the sole measure of a student’s or school’s performance. But they’re important and useful, he said.
“This is one more piece of information: Are there areas where students aren’t doing particularly well? Are there whole classes that are not doing particularly well in ways that perhaps don’t seem to make sense or are surprising?” he said.
“That reflective use of test scores has proven very powerful in many kinds of settings.”