Hey, state board, where are the state assessment results?

Indeed, it is now October and the 2018 state assessment results – tests that were taken by students last spring – have yet to be released to the public. Since the information is there – students and families have long been given individual results and even teachers have them for upcoming parent-teacher conferences – why is the state board, via KSDE, sitting on it?

If history is an indicator, and likely in this case, there are two fundamental reasons:

a) the scores, including subsets like achievement gaps, are poor and aren’t getting better

b) state assessment scores don’t mean much in a Kansans Can universe

The way scores were released last year provides ample support of the latter, and if the former weren’t true we’d certainly know it by now.

The results from the 2017 assessments were presented as a parenthetic, barely a footnote, during the October 2017 state board meeting. Education Commissioner Randy Watson buried the English language arts and math scores in a Kansans Can report to the board. State assessment scores didn’t even rise to a separate agenda item nor was there any mention in the board meeting minutes. The two minutes Watson dedicated (during a 90-minute presentation) to discussing the poor results from 2017 made state assessments sound like a nuisance no one likes to hear about, sort of like emptying the cat box. Watson’s rehash of JFK’s speech about going to the moon as it relates to KSDE’s own “moon launch” program garnered longer attention. (I’m not making that up.)

I’m the first to admit that test results are not the be-all and end-all of educating students. Twenty years in the classroom gives one a much broader perspective.

However, and I mean a BIG however, state assessment scores are a linchpin variable in the never-ending litigation over public education funding. The Kansas Supreme Court has determined test scores are the very foundation for determining whether education funding is “adequate.” As I discussed in a previous article, this is a prime example of the continuing disconnect between those who provide public education and those who want to determine how much money is necessary to do so. Obviously, the state board/KSDE and the Supreme Court are not on the same page.

There’s another reason the 2018 scores should receive a much higher level of attention. In response to the Supreme Court in Gannon V, the Legislature upped aid to public education by about $200 million, much of that intended for at-risk students. Could it be that the 2018 state assessment scores will show that more money did not move the achievement needle?

There is no excuse for an intentional delay in releasing state assessment results. Since the Supreme Court has tied test scores to the dollar amount the taxpayers must pay for public education, the state board and KSDE have an obligation to be more forthcoming. In an atmosphere that now stresses government transparency, the state board’s treatment of state assessment scores is nothing short of opaque.