Kansas education officials blamed a calculation error Monday for overreporting the amount the achievement gap between poor and more affluent students and minority and nonminority students grew on this year's state tests.
The Kansas Department of Education said in a news release that the issue was with how the state dealt with three districts that don't give their eighth-grade and high school students the standard state exam. The McPherson, Kansas City, Kan., and Clifton-Clyde districts use the ACT college entrance exam and another test designed for younger students called ACT EXPLORE after receiving a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind education law. That waiver is different from a statewide waiver Kansas received over the summer.
Scores on the alternative exams were converted so they could be used when calculating statewide results. The problem is older students from the three districts were counted twice, throwing off the statewide scores. That was particularly problematic because Kansas City, Kan., which has a large number of poor and minority students, saw its scores drop dramatically with the new, more difficult test. State data show the district went from having 72.4 percent of its 11th-graders at or above standard in reading in 2011 to just 17.9 percent in 2012.
"KCK represents a significant portion of several of the subgroups — African-Americans, Hispanics, probably special education," said Tom Foster, Kansas State Department of Education director for career standards and assessment services. "There are a lot of students in KCK. It's a big district. So when they used ACT assessments, their scores took a dip and that made the state averages do the same."
District spokesman David Smith said a drop in test scores was anticipated because the ACT test is more rigorous than the state exam. "Districts across the state had kids who were proficient on the state exam and had to take remedial courses in colleges," he said of the reason for the change.
Still, when the miscalculated statewide scores were released last month, the drops they showed generated concerns that cuts to the state education budget is hurting students' performance.
The state has updated statewide information to reflect results only for students who took state-administered assessments. The eighth-grade and high school results from the three districts with waivers were calculated separately and apart from the statewide results.
The new numbers show the gap between students receiving government subsidized meals and those who aren't grew less. Overall scores didn't drop as much either.
Originally, for instance, the reading performance gap between black and white students was reported to have grown by 7.5 percentage points. Recalculated, it actually grew by 3.1 percentage points.
The state remains concerned, though. A task force formed in the wake of the initial score release to look at the achievement gap will remain in effect, and its members are expected to make recommendations to the Kansas Board of Education in the spring. The state board also will consider in October whether to combine the scores of students taking the ACT tests with those taking the state exam.