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Kansas school establishment defenders: the video

A video criticizing the Kansas Policy Institute for placing a series of ads in Kansas newspapers claims KPI “conceals” and “ignores” facts and statistics. But I didn’t have to work very hard to find many gross and blatant mistakes, distortions, and coverups in the video — the same problems found in much of the communications of the Kansas public school spending bureaucracy and establishment.

One slide in the video says this: “The numbers in those expensive, state-wide ads from the KPI only count ‘A’ or ‘B’ levels of performance as passing. KPI’s numbers conceal the wide range of students who score ‘proficient.’ By KPI’s logic, ‘C’ = FAILURE.”

First, the KPI ads don’t claim that Kansas schools are failing. KPI calls attention to the actual level of achievement in Kansas schools, and chose to use a different measure of what is acceptable than does the Kansas public school education establishment. But instead of defending their low standards, public school defenders attack KPI.

But the real problem with the claim made in this portion of the video is a blatant misuse of the KSDE data: The performance levels KSDE uses do not correspond to letter grades. A document on the KSDE website says this: “When assigning performance levels for the State assessment, please consider the following suggestions … The performance levels do not correspond to grades (i.e. A, B, C, D, F).”

Despite this warning, the video mischaracterizes KSDE data.

Another claim made in the video mistakenly applies Kansas state assessment data. Here’s what the video says: “Actual achievement data from the KSDE shows that since 2003, 27% more students in Kansas have become proficient or better in reading; 36% more students have become proficient or better in math.”

The problem is that in 2006 Kansas implemented new tests, and the state specifically warns that comparisons with previous years — like 2003 — are not valid. A KSDE document titled Kansas Assessments in Reading and Mathematics 2006 Technical Manual states so explicitly: “As the baseline year of the new round of assessments, the Spring 2006 administration incorporated important changes from prior KAMM assessments administered in the 2000 — 2005 testing cycle. Curriculum standards and targets for the assessments were changed, test specifications revised, and assessed grade levels expanded to include students in grades 3-8 and one grade level in high school. In effect, no comparison to past student, building, district, or state performance should be made.” (emphasis added.)

Despite this KSDE warning, the video makes the invalid statistical comparison. By the way, so does Kansas Commissioner of Education Diane DeBacker, when she recently wrote this on the editorial page of the Wichita Eagle: “Since 2001, the percentage of students statewide who perform in the top three levels on state reading assessments has jumped from about 60 percent to more than 87 percent. In math, the jump has been from just more than 54 percent to nearly 85 percent.”

A criticism the video often makes several times is that KPI statistics do not present the entire story. For example, several times the video points with great pride to the performance on Kansas students on the ACT test, proclaiming “Kansas’ teachers consistently prepare their students for college, more so than most states in the US.” The video then presents several slides of statistics.

Missing, however, is this sobering statistic: Only 28 percent of Kansas students who take the ACT are ready for college-level work in all four subjects the ACT test covers. While this result is slightly better than the national average, it means that nearly three-fourths of Kansas high school graduates need to take one or more remedial college courses. This statistic was not reported in the video, and we can easily see why the Kansas public school establishment doesn’t want you to know this. See Kansas students, while improving, are mostly not ready for college.

As another example, the video reports on the scores of Kansas students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Looking at the gross scores, Kansas does well, compared to other states. But you don’t have to look very hard to realize that these scores are a statistical accident. It’s an unfortunate fact that minority students do not perform as well on these tests as white students. When you combine this with the fact that Kansas has a relatively small minority population, we can see an explanation as to why Kansas ranks well.

But compare Kansas with Texas, a state that Kansas school spending boosters like to deride as a state with low-performing schools (the video does not make this claim). In Kansas 69 percent of students are white, while in Texas that number is 33 percent. So it’s not surprising that overall, Kansas outperforms Texas (with one tie) when considering all students in four important areas: fourth and eighth grade reading, and fourth and eighth grade math.

But looking at Hispanic students only, Texas beats or ties Kansas in these four areas. For black students, Texas bests Kansas in all four.

By the way, the video relies on NAEP data to compare the achievement of Kansas students with those in other states. But the video doesn’t address this very important issue: Kansas NAEP scores are largely unchanged at the same time scores on Kansas tests are rising — “jumping,” in the words of the Kansas Commissioner of Education.

Another problem: “Kansas teachers will continue to help their students succeed. … Even though Base State Aid Per Pupil hasn’t kept up with cost increases.” The implication is that Kansas schools are not funded adequately.

The problem here, again, is failing to look at the total picture. It’s true that base state aid per pupil has declined. Looking at total spending, however, the same trend does not apply. Total spending by schools in Kansas has risen rapidly for many years, but has fallen flat and declined slightly the past two years. In 2001 spending was $3.7 billion, while in 2010 it was $5.6 billion.

Considering state spending only: $2.2 billion in 2001, increasing to $3.0 billion in 2010. State aid had reached a high of $3.3 billion in 2008. See Kansas school spending facts ignored by many for charts.

This deception when discussing school spending is widespread, so it’s not surprising to see it repeated in this video. See Kansas school spending: the deception for a discussion of how Mark Desetti, who is Director of Legislative and Political Advocacy at Kansas National Education Association (KNEA), our state’s teachers union, uses these numbers to be accurate and deceptive, all at the same time.

We expect this deceptive behavior from union officials. Newspaper editorial writers, however, ought to be held to a higher standard. But: A recent Lawrence Journal-World editorial contained “In the last four years, per-pupil state funding for public schools has declined by about 14 percent, from $4,400 per student to $3,780.” And writing in the Wichita Eagle, Rhonda Holman complained of “several years of cuts totaling $653 per pupil.” (Reason to be wary, December 16 Wichita Eagle) Actual facts do not support these claims.

And teachers? They ought to held to an even higher standard. So Kansans might be surprised to learn that this video — replete of the same problems it purports to disclose — was created by a Kansas schoolteacher: Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a teacher in the Hays public schools.

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