Kansas students’ scores on reading, math tests slip

Kansas elementary and secondary school students’ overall scores on statewide reading and math tests slipped this year, declining together for the first time since 2000, the state Department of Education reported Tuesday.

The department reported that 84.7 percent of the 261,000 students who took reading tests this spring were proficient, compared to 87 percent last year. For math, 78.3 percent of the students were proficient, compared to 85 percent last year. Declines were present across ethnic and socioeconomic groups, the department said.

“We actually declined in every category, which is discouraging to say the least,” said board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican.

The department also said 59 percent of the state’s nearly 1,400 public and accredited private K-12 schools failed to show progress this year in improving student scores.

The declines in the reading and math percentages could intensify a debate over whether the state is spending enough money on its public schools. The decrease also could lead to renewed criticism from conservatives about the State Board of Education’s move to multistate, Common Core academic standards.

But Deputy Education Commissioner Brad Neuenswander also told the board that the slippage is at least partly a result of Kansas moving to new academic standards. As schools adapt, he said, what’s being taught no longer fully aligns with the tests, a situation the department views as temporary with the tests slated for revisions.

There was some positive news, however.

Some 110,000 students who took science tests scored a little better overall, with 85 percent proficient, compared to 84.3 percent last year, though it’s still lower than in 2009, 2010 or 2011. Also, this year’s high school graduation rate was 84.9 percent, compared to 83 percent in 2012.

But starting in 2000, the state had seen steady progress in students’ overall reading and math proficiency, which started 13 years ago at 50.3 percent in both categories. The percentage for reading peaked at 87.5 percent in 2011 and, for math, last year at 85 percent.

“We’re not used to seeing results go down as a state,” Neuenswander told reporters.

The department’s report came the month after the Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments in an education funding lawsuit filed by students and several school districts. The state is appealing a lower court ruling that legislators haven’t met their constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools and must boost annual spending by at least $440 million.

“Class sizes increased, teachers were laid off and many resources for students were eliminated,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat challenging Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election next year. “It’s not hard to connect the dots.”

The board’s adoption in 2010 of Common Core standards also has spurred criticism from conservative legislators and parents. They argue that the multistate standards represent a loss of local and state control over education and question whether they’ll improve classroom teaching.