Kansas is preparing to release its first data from revised statewide English and math tests taken by public school students this spring, and officials are telling parents, teachers and policymakers it represents a shift in thinking about what matters.
State Department of Education officials said their report, expected to be released this week, will provide data about how many students are on track to succeed in college or careers, instead of focusing largely on how many read or do math at or above their grade levels. Department officials said they expect parents to receive more information about how each student is performing.
It’s also the first data to be released from tests aligned with multistate Common Core academic standards adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010. Department officials said the revised tests are lighter on multiple-choice questions and heavier on problems that emphasize critical thinking.
The data will become public as legislators work on a new law to distribute more than $4 billion a year in state aid to Kansas’ 286 school districts, wanting to spend the money to improve students’ performance. The Education Department acknowledges it faces questions about whether those changes could create confusion.
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“You have to unhook that plow that we’ve been pulling, because where we’re headed is totally different,” Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander said during a briefing last week.
The data is expected to be released Tuesday. The state began giving tests aligned with the Common Core standards in spring 2014, but it didn’t report statewide data or data on districts or schools last year because of cyberattacks and other problems with its Internet-based exams.
For a decade under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state’s standardized testing in public schools attempted to measure whether students were proficient in reading and math, with annual targets for increasing the percentages. Their scores put them in five categories, ranging from “academic warning” to “exemplary.”
The new report will put students’ scores into four categories and dump the labels. Students who aren’t performing at grade level will fall into the lowest category, while the second lowest category generally will be for those who are meeting standards. The top two will be for students who are on track to succeed in higher education without remedial courses.
Neuenswander said parents will receive a two-page report on each child, instead of a sentence or two of information. The goal, he said, is to spur discussions with teachers.
“It’s important for parents, for families and for the students themselves to have as much information about their performance and their readiness for career and college,” said Mark Desetti, a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers’ union.
But because tests have been revised, the data can’t be compared with data from past years, according to Department of Education officials. Data from Kansas also can’t be compared with data from other states because of differences in testing.
Those issues could frustrate some legislators.
“If they’re not going to show us anything, it’s not going to be very helpful,” said Kansas House Education Committee Chairman Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican.
Leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature last week set up a special committee to study school funding issues over the next four months, directing the panel to consider how to ensure that students succeed after graduating.
“As we move into the discussions about financing education, outcomes are crucial for legislators,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.
Department of Education officials said the new testing regimen will push schools to focus on helping students become successful 20-somethings.
“We want to know: Where does the kid want to go, what are their dreams, what are they going to need to be successful when they get there?” Neuenswander said.