As another school year comes to an end so does another round of state assessment testing.
Scores from the 2016 tests will be available in the fall, numbers from the 2015 state assessments — the last year for which data is available — show less than half of Kansas high school sophomores are considered college and career ready.
A new state assessment was released in 2015, the new test is meant to be more rigorous, and revealed the discrepancies between students who pay for lunch and students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
Kansas State Department of Education data from 2015 shows 11 percent of sophomores in the state who receive free and reduced-price lunch were college and career ready in math, compared to 32 percent of students who paid full price for their lunch.
College or career ready means reaching level three or four in the respective subjects of math and English. The scale is from one to four. Level one and two are considered not meeting standard, while three and four are meeting or exceeding standards.
For English language arts, 17 percent of free or reduced lunch students were college and career ready while 40 percent of paid lunch students reached level three or four.
In Crawford County, where roughly half of students are on free or reduced-price lunch, the picture is as grim. All of the superintendents interviewed said the state assessment is one part of how districts measure college and career readiness. School leaders also said testing helps districts see where achievement shortfalls exist, and make adjustments in curriculum and programs.
Frontenac was the only school in the county consistently above the statewide scores for students receiving free and reduced lunch, with 25 percent of students in both math and English achieving levels three or four.
Girard was the only high school to score above state average for paid lunch with 48 percent college and career ready in English. Although, the high school still shows a socioeconomic gap with 8 percent of free and reduced lunch students being college and career ready in math compared to 30 percent for paid lunch.
“We are not happy with where we are,” Girard Superintendent of Schools Blaise Bauer said. “We want it to be 100 percent.”
Pittsburg schools had 16 percent of free and reduced lunch students college and career ready, compared to 23 percent for paid lunch in math. English had an 11 percent gap – from 14 percent for free and reduced lunch students to 25 percent for paid lunch students.
Pittsburg had roughly 210 students in the sophomore class in 2015. The high school was 58 percent free and reduced lunch the same year. Which means, of the roughly 122 students taking free or reduced lunch, about 20 students were college and career ready in math and 17 students in English.
Of the 88 students in the paid lunch category, about 20 were college and career ready in math and 22 students in English.
Pittsburg Superintendent of Schools Destry Brown said the district also looks at ACT scores and students receiving career certifications.
“We have a lot of students being more successful than (the state assessment shows),” he said. “And it is a lot more than 20 percent.”
Brown called the ever-changing state assessments “iffy” and said it would take years for the data to be reliable.
Southeast Superintendent of Schools Brad Miner said the district is constantly working to “narrow the gap” that exists at all grade levels.
“Until we have these same assessments for a period of time where we can look at it longitudinally, it is hard to say what that really means,” Miner said. “That gap is going to be increased just for the fact of the change of how we assess and what we assess.”
Southeast High School had no students college and career ready in math under free and reduced lunch and 18 percent were ready with paid lunch. In English, 9 percent were ready in free and reduced lunch and 18 percent for paid lunch.
Northeast High School was the only school in the county to have free and reduced lunch students score higher than those who pay full price for lunch. Three percent of sophomores were college and career ready in math while no paid lunch students achieved college and career ready status.
In English, 17 percent of free and reduced lunch students were college and career ready compared to 8 percent of paid lunch students.
“That is surprising that ours would be flipped the opposite of everyone else,” Northeast Superintendent of Schools Greg Gorman said.
Gorman said the school began the process of changing curriculum in April for the 2016-17 school year. He said the change is not in response to the state assessment scores, but hoped the new curriculum would increase the percent of students college and career ready.
Grades three through eight plus 10 were tested.
Aggregate grades statewide and locally paint a better picture. But, Kansas Policy Institute President Dave Trabert said looking at 10th grade is more telling.
“The reason we look at 10th grade is that this is the end result of years of learning,” he said. “Where it is going to matter the most being college and career ready.”
Scores for the old, 2014 state assessment were not available through the Kansas State Department of Education. KPI was able to provide 2013 data for 11th graders.
The data shows, statewide, 29 percent of 11th graders receiving free or reduced lunch scored above standard in math; 56 percent for paid lunch.
Under the reading section, 36 percent of free and reduced lunch scored above standard; compared to 65 percent paid lunch.
Crawford County shows similar gaps as well and Northeast, again, had the only anomaly in math where free and reduced lunch students scored higher than paid lunch students.
Trabert said being above standard means “full comprehension of grade-appropriate material” as defined by KSDE.
“We’ve known for a long time, the problem is it has been presented in a way that it seems kids have much higher achievements,” Trabert said. “If we continue to do (the) things we are doing then things are not going to change.”
Meanwhile, the Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this month on whether changes the Kansas State Legislature has made to the school funding formula are equitable.
The court ruled in February the block grant funding system enacted by the Legislature in 2015 was unconstitutional and threatened to close schools on July 1.
The legislature reacted to the February ruling by returning to a previous, court-approved formula for capital outlay in April. The change resulted in no additional funding to most of the 286 districts in the state. The supreme court has yet to rule on the state’s change to funding.
— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.