Normally, one shouldn’t make too much out of a single year’s state test scores, as an increase or decline may not necessarily reflect a trend. But the drop in assessment scores this past year among African-American students statewide (but notably not in Wichita) was so dramatic that it demands action.
The percentage of African-Americans who met or exceeded state standards in reading fell from 73.9 percent in the 2011 school year to 65.7 percent in 2012 (the drop by all students was 87.6 to 85.7 percent). In math, the percentage of African-Americans meeting the standard dropped from 67 to 61.7 percent. The decline in science was nearly 14 points, from 65.6 to 51.7 percent; in history, it was from 57.9 to 51.9 percent.
Hispanic students also saw significant drops in assessment scores, though not as large as the declines for African-Americans. In reading, the percentage of Hispanics who met state standards fell from 78 to 74.5 percent; in math, the drop was from 76.4 to 73.9 percent.
The Kansas State Department of Education hasn’t had time yet to analyze the test data and determine possible reasons for the sharp drop – though many observers think that large state funding cuts are beginning to take a toll.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker is forming a task force to examine and address the decline. It will include representatives from school districts and agencies such as the Kansas African American Affairs Commission and the Midwest Equity Assistance Center at Kansas State University.
“We need to be looking at that at a state level,” DeBacker said.
The task force also needs to look at what Wichita has done. The percentage of African-American students in USD 259 who met state standards increased 1.9 percentage points in math and fell less than 1 point in reading last school year (though the totals – 63.8 percent in reading and 58.6 percent in math – are still below the statewide averages for African-American students). Over the past five years, the percentage of Wichita’s African-American students meeting standards increased nearly 7 points in reading and 4.6 points in math.
Wichita is also bucking the trend on narrowing the achievement gap, though it still has a significant distance to go. On reading tests, the gap between the percentages of white students and African-American students in USD 259 who met state standards dropped from 21.7 percentage points in 2008 to 19.6 points in 2012, while the statewide gap increased from 22 to 25.2 percentage points. In math, Wichita’s gap decreased from 22.1 to 21.1 points, while the statewide gap increased from 25.4 to 25.9 points.
Closing the achievement gap is difficult, as there are many factors that affect learning that are beyond the control of teachers, including economic status. But as Wichita has done, the state needs to be making progress in raising the test scores of African-American students, not losing ground.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee