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Understanding State Assessments

Posted Date: 04/21/2022

Understanding State Assessments

Kansas tests most K-12 students every year in reading and math. The results are a big part of discussions about public education. 

Some legislators and critics of public schools say state assessments show student performance is alarmingly low, declining, and additional funding hasn’t helped. Other legislators and advocates for public schools say scores are low because Kansas has high standards, that learning loss from eight years of underfunding and the COVID pandemic will take time to recover, and that actual educational attainment is rising. Here are some facts about Kansas state assessments and student performance. 

Part A: What do state assessments tell us about student learning, differences among students and the impact of those differences on school results? 

  1. How are state assessment results reported and what do those results mean? 

Kansas schools test most students every year in reading and math. Students fall into four achievement levels. Most recently, about one-third of students placed in the lowest level and about 30 percent in the two highest levels. Students did better in reading than in math. 

  1. What do the performance levels say about how students are doing? 

Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the State Board of Education has set Levels 3 and 4 as “proficient” for academic college readiness, with a goal of getting 75 percent of students to that level. That’s a much higher standard than in the past, and higher than other states. 

  1. Are there factors that affect student performance on state assessments outside of the school’s control? 

There are large differences in student performance based on factors like family income level, disability, and if the student is learning English as a second language. Schools can’t control these factors but try to address them with additional support. 

  1. Does the percentage of higher need students (low income, disabled, English learners) vary among school districts? 

The percentage of high needs students differs significantly across Kansas schools. Public schools must serve all students in their district, regardless of academic, economic, social or behavioral issues. 

  1. How do state assessments differ among public and private schools when taking into account factors like poverty and disability? 

Assessment results are strongly related to the needs of the student population, with private schools performing only slightly higher than similar public schools. Districts with most high needs students have the lowest results. Results in both public and private school groups have been declining. 

Part B: How do Kansas test results compare to private schools, other states and tests, and past performance; how do changes in test results compare to changes in school funding and student needs, and how do those changes compare to students graduating high school and completing postsecondary credentials? 

  1. How does the Kansas goal of getting 75 percent of students to Levels 3 and 4 compare to private school results, other states and past educational outcomes? 

Based on private school results, other states and past education outcomes, the Kansas standard for Levels 3 and 4 indicates a high goal that no state or school system has come close to reaching. 

  1. Have state test results been improving or declining, and how does that compare to other states? 

Kansas state and national test results have been declining recently but were previously rising. Kansas results have dropped compared to other states. 

  1. How do changes in Kansas test results compare to changes in funding? 

Kansas test scores were rising when school funding was increasing more than inflation and began falling after per pupil funding lost ground to inflation for nearly a decade. The Gannon school finance plan was less than one-third implemented before the COVID pandemic. 

  1. How have student needs changed in ways that impact test scores? 

In addition to funding changes and the impact of COVID, Kansas school districts have more high need students (low income, disabled and English Language Learners) than in the past, while pursuing higher academic standards. 

  1. How has the number of students actually completing college programs changed, compared to test scores? 

Although only about one-third of Kansas students test at Levels 3 and 4, demonstrating effective or excellent postsecondary readiness, a far higher percentage of students actually earn postsecondary credentials, and those numbers had been increasing – until 2019 and the COVID pandemic. 


See the full report here.