Every state has a “Report Card” system that provides information on student performance, demographics, attendance rates and other related data regarding public schools. Most state systems, including Kansas, use labels like ‘approaching standard’ or ‘Level 1’ that make it difficult for parents to understand how a particular building is performing. At least 18 states (be it through legislative or executive action), however, use labels that everyone understands – A, B, C, D and F. An A-F grading scale is a necessary and intuitive method that provides clarity and transparency to present an overall picture of how a school is doing. It also affords an opportunity for case studies that compare both similar and dissimilar schools; studies that help answer questions of why some schools do well and others do not. Kansas Policy Institute developed this A-F system for citizens and policy makers to facilitate better understanding of the academic challenges to be overcome, recognize public schools that show annual academic achievement gains, and hopefully identify ideas from the improving schools that can be replicated across the state.
Spending per student at the school building level is reported by school districts using the methodology required in the federal education law, the Every Students Succeed Act (ESSA). It includes all spending except capital outlay, debt service, and district central administration costs. That is an important development because Kansas has formula-based funding and “A-F Grading for Kansas Schools” will show that some schools outperform other schools regardless of funding levels and/or specific student population characteristics.
The “A-F Grading for Kansas Schools” uses state assessment data generated by the Kansas Assessment Program (KAP) under the operation of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and assigns an overall school letter grade much like a student report card; equal weighting is applied to a series of individual grades to calculate a Grade Point Average. Each grade level tested by KSDE (grades 3-8 and 10) is assigned a grade for English language arts (ELA) and math for low income kids and those who aren’t low income, so each grade tested earns four letter grades. See the Methodology section below for additional information. It should be noted that school size in Kansas varies greatly, and those schools with small student populations can experience significant swings in performance from year to year. That notwithstanding, the fundamental exercise is still appropriate for all schools.