One Wichita school board member had stern words Monday about Kansas assessment results that show the district’s students performing well below their peers across the state.
District- and building-level results from this past spring’s state tests, posted online recently, show that more than 53 percent of Wichita high school students did not perform at grade level in math, compared with 37 percent statewide.
Results were similar among other grade levels in both math and English language arts, with large percentages of Wichita students scoring at the lowest level on the tests.
District officials pointed to the number of students who scored Level 2 – at grade level, though not on track for college readiness – and said that was encouraging, given the new, tougher standards.
“When you consider that students are working at grade level on a first measure against such rigorous standards, I think that’s a positive to take away,” said Lisa Lutz, the district’s test coordinator. “It shows that students do have a strong level of skill there, and we can learn from this.”
Board member Joy Eakins, however, pointed to the high percentages of students not performing at grade level. At five of the district’s seven high schools, she said, one out of every two students is below grade level in math, according to the test report.
“It’s disconcerting to me to have a report from the district that paints this in a positive light,” Eakins said.
Look at these numbers. Go look at the schools in your district, see what the numbers are. These are not good numbers.
Joy Eakins, Wichita school board member
“I understand that these are new (standards) and that we will improve. But I think the first thing we have to do to improve is to admit that we have a problem,” she said. “Look at these numbers. Go look at the schools in your district, see what the numbers are. These are not good numbers.”
Education officials have been warning for months that scores on last spring’s state tests – the first to measure students’ performance under more rigorous, Common Core standards – would be bad. Early results released in September showed that a majority of Kansas students were not on track to be ready for college-level work, although most performed at grade level on the tests.
“Instruction has changed,” said Lutz, the test coordinator. “It looks different, feels different, and it just takes time to make the amount of changes that need to be made to meet these new standards.”
Eakins said she understood standards were higher and that many Wichita students deal with poverty and other issues that affect academic achievement. Even so, she urged the board to take action.
“If we sit here as a board and accept a report that ‘Well, we’re pretty good, and we’ll do better,’ then we’re never going to really move the bar the way it needs to be moved.
“Moving the bar 1 or 2 or 3 percent a year is not enough for our students. It’s not enough for our city,” Eakins said. “Our students and the parents who send their kids here and our taxpayers and our community need us to do something different.”
Superintendent John Allison said early results from the state test show lots of room for improvement. Officials already are exploring ways to crank up math instruction in elementary schools, among other measures, he said.
I don’t think anybody’s said that we don’t have academic issues that we need to deal with.
John Allison, Wichita superintendent
“I don’t think anybody’s said that we don’t have academic issues that we need to deal with,” Allison said.
“There’s no question we have a great deal of work to do, and we want to move all of those students up. … As we begin to look at the data in greater depth and complexity, we’ll be able to determine exactly where we need to go and how we improve this.”
Southeast High facilities
Also on Monday, board members approved a $3 million contract to build outdoor athletic facilities at the new Southeast High School.
The contract with Dondlinger and Sons Construction Co. will pay for a new track and turf, a field events area, tennis courts, baseball and softball practice fields and a groundskeeper area at the new school near 127th Street East and Pawnee.
The new Southeast High, now estimated to cost about $68 million, will be the first new Class 6A high school built in the district since Northwest High School in 1978. It is scheduled to open next fall.