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First state math and reading tests after COVID show decline, especially in math

Posted Date: 11/11/2021

First state math and reading tests after COVID show decline, especially in math

In the first statewide results since the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas state student assessments showed declines as expected by state education experts.  In 2021, six percent more students scored at the lowest level in math and 4.54 percent dropped out of the two highest levels compared to 2019. 

English Language Arts results also declined, but at a lower rate, with less than one percent more students in the lowest level and 1.42 percent dropping from the two highest levels. 

State and national education leaders and researchers have been expecting a decline in student achievement due to the pandemic for a variety of reasons. Students lost instructional time due to illness or quarantines, spent time in remote learning environments that are more difficult for many students, and faced personal and family trauma over health and economic issues. They may have lost continuity among teachers and other school personnel as districts struggled with staff illness, quarantines, resignations and vacancies. 

Officials at the Kansas State Department of Education also caution that comparisons with previous years are complicated because over 12,000 fewer students were tested in 2021, due to at least two factors. First, overall enrollment was lower in both public and private schools. Second, students were required to take the tests in a supervised setting, so some students in remote only environments could not participate. 

Grade 10 experienced the largest decrease in participation (almost 10 percentage points). Grade 10 African American students demonstrated the greatest decrease in participation – a decline of nearly 20 percentage points from 2019 participation rates. Grade 7 African American students demonstrated a 16-percentage point decline. 

No tests were given in 2020, when schools were closed for in person learning from mid-March to the end of the semester. 

The assessments results will bring more scrutiny over how districts are using increased funding under the Legislature’s response to the Gannon school finance case. In 2016, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that school finance was not constitutionally “suitable” in part because state assessments showed approximately 25 percent of students were scoring below state proficiency standards on previous versions of reading and math tests. 

The court also noted that base funding per pupil had fallen below levels established by the Legislature in 2009 to resolve the earlier Montoy lawsuit. In response, the court and Legislature agreed on a plan to restore school funding to inflation-adjusted 2009 levels over a six-year period from 2018 to 2023, following an eight-year period when funding was lower than inflation from 2009 to 2017. 

The State Board of Education adopted new assessments that educational leaders say are more rigorous, beginning in 2015. The percentage of students scoring at the lowest level on the new tests has remained over 25 percent in both reading and math and moved over 30 percent in 2021. The State Board has also set a goal of moving more students into the two highest of four levels, which they said means students are clearly on track for postsecondary readiness. Low-income students and those with other special needs continue to lag significantly behind their peers. 

The board has also adopted a broader set of educational outcomes than test scores, including graduation rates, postsecondary participation, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study and social and emotional growth. 

Many education leaders have said it will take time for additional funding to have an impact and districts will need to recover from the effects of the pandemic. Districts are expected to receive over $1 billion in federal aid to address COVID-19 issues, including learning loss and other student needs, but this funding varies significantly among school districts because it is tied student poverty levels. 

However, many Legislators are impatient to see results from higher funding and some say what they see as  the slow pace means the state should consider expanding aid to students attending alternatives to public schools. Last session, the Legislature passed an expansion of the current program providing tax credits to aid low-income students attending private schools. It is expected to revisit a proposal that would allow families of students qualifying for at-risk services based on low test scores and other measures to use their base state education aid for private school tuition or other educational purposes. 

A special interim legislative committee has been appointed to study education issues, including funding increases approved under the Gannon decisions; legislation related to longitudinal reporting from 2015 to 2021; Kansas State Department of Education rules and regulations updates in 2021 related to achievement; the State Board of Education's legislation priorities for the 2022 Session; KSDE priorities from public meetings this fall, achievement expectations and funding for at-risk students; and the constitutional roles of the Legislature, State Board of Education, and local school boards. 

Reviewing and responding to district results 

School leaders are encouraged to review their districts assessment results if they have not done so and be prepared to explain and document the plans and programs they have adopted to improve student outcomes, what changes may be considered, how they have assessed the impact of COVID and are using federal assistance to address that impact, and how they are using additional state per pupil funding under from Gannon. 

Access to state, districts and school assessment results 

State assessment results for the state, individual districts and schools, and accredited private schools are available at the Kansas State Department of Education’s Data Central website portal. Click on the Kansas State Building Report Card in the upper left, or click view data. On the next page, enter a school or district, or click view state results. Then, click “Performance Indicators” at the top and select “Longitudinal Performance Level Reports.” 

The first results displayed are math assessment results for the most recent year, currently 2021, for all grades and all students. The display can be changed to another year, or the past five years (except for 2020 when the test was not given), for individual grades (3-8 and 10, or high school), and for various student groups. It can also be changed to show English Language Arts results, and other state tests not given annually.  

The display shows the percentage of students in each of the four performance levels on the tests.  

Here are the displays for the past five years for all students and all grades in math and ELA. The data can also be downloaded from Data Central. 


Math chart

English Language Arts: 

ELA chart

State highlights 

One of the major differences among student groups is between low-income students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, and those who do not qualify.  

More than twice the percentage of low-income students score in the lowest level on both reading and math than non-low-income students. Likewise, more than twice the percentage of higher-income students are in the top two levels as low-income students. 

From 2019 to 2021, the percentage of low-income students in the lowest level of math grew by 8.42 percent, while non-low-income students grew slightly less, 6.69 percent. However, the percentage of low-income students dropping from the top two levels, 4.48 percent, was lower than the decline in non-low-income students, 7.54 percent.  

In ELA, the percentage of low-income students at the lowest level increased 1.68 percent, slightly lower than the non-low-income percentage of2.85 percent. For the two highest levels, the low-income students dropped 1.71 percent, less than half the rate of non-low-income students, 4.06 percent. 

These changes have helped narrow the gap between low-income and non-low-income students in math from 26.10 percent in 2017 to 22.24 percent in 2021, and in reading from 27.32 to 23.61. 

In both math and English Language Arts, each grade level saw a decline in the two highest levels. Upper grades had the lowest rates in the top two levels: grade 8 followed by grade 10 in ELA and grade 10 followed by grade 8 in math. The highest rates were grade 4 in ELA and grade 3 in math.