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February 8, 2012
For Immediate Release
Contact: James Franko
Student Achievement is Lower than Parents May Believe
K-12 Students Done No Favors With Incomplete Picture Of Performance
February 6, 2012 - Wichita - There is no question that some students get an excellent public education in Kansas.  However, a new analysis from Kansas Policy Institute demonstrates that an examination of all the facts shows that that is not true for a large number of students.  "Removing Barriers to Better Public Education," finds that a more complete analysis of available data indicates that far too many Kansas children are being left behind.

"Educating our children is probably the most important thing we do as parents and society as a whole," said KPI president and the study's co-author Dave Trabert, "The only way we can measure whether we are successfully accomplishing that mission is to have a full understanding of student achievement.  It may be disconcerting to face certain facts but we do our children no favors by pretending that achievement is better."

The Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) and other organizations cite national rankings in saying that Kansas is among the highest achieving states in the country.  However, they do not share the actual results of those tests with parents.

Trabert emphasized this point by saying, "A high national ranking may sound good, but it's largely meaningless without context.  Kansas ranks tenth in the nation for the percentage of students rated Proficient or better in 4th Grade Reading, but only 36% of those students are Proficient.  Actual achievement matters, not rank."

On the ACT test, Kansas students scored above the national average but only 28% of Kansas high school graduates taking the ACT scored high enough to be considered college ready in English, Reading, Math, and Science.  Exceeding the national average is good, but parents aren't told that that's because most states (including Kansas) have very low levels of college-readiness among high school graduates.

The study also reveals that demographic differences among the states make Kansas' performance appear higher than in reality.  Students of color and low income students are typically about two years' worth of learning behind the average White student, both here in Kansas and across the nation.   These achievement gaps and the dramatic differences in student body compositions of the states artificially skew overall results so that states with higher concentrations of White students appear to perform better.     

On this point, Trabert was quick to point out, "Lower scores for students of color and low income students  does not mean those children cannot learn.  They absolutely can learn.  It simply means they haven't been given equal access to an effective education."

With 69% White students compared to the national average of 53%, Kansas is one of those states whose overall scores appear higher because of demographics.  The U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that composite scores in Reading and Math for Kansas 4th Grade and 8th Grade students are just slightly above the national average when comparing individual student cohorts:
  • White students:  0.3% above average for White students
  • Hispanic students: 1.9% above average for Hispanic students
  • Black students:  1.0% above average for Black students
  • Low Income students:  2.7% above average for Low Income students
The study also compares achievement and spending trends, concluding that higher spending does not translate into better achievement.  Between 1998 and 2011, total aid to Kansas public schools increased from $3.1 billion to $5.6 billion, far outpacing inflation. On a per-pupil basis, spending went from $6,828 to $12,283; meanwhile, Kansas' scores on independent national exams remain essentially flat.  The authors also found that the states with the best scores in the region (Colorado and Texas) actually spend at least $1,200 per-pupil less than Kansas on current operating costs.

Trabert concluded, "While this analysis reveals that achievement is much lower than many people may have believed, its purpose is not to assess blame or criticize but to establish the true status of achievement levels so Kansans can make informed decisions about improving public education and challenging our students and schools to succeed."

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Kansas Policy Institute is an independent think-tank that advocates for free market solutions and the protection of personal freedom for all Kansans.  Our work centers on state and local economic policy with primary emphasis on education, fiscal policy and health care.  We empower citizens, legislators and other government officials with objective research and creative ideas to promote a low-tax, pro-growth environment that preserves the ability of governments to provide high quality services. 
To speak with Kansas Policy Institute, please contact James Franko at (316) 634-0218.