Tests suggest most Kansas students not ready for college

Majority of students are not on track for college success, according to a new report

college-kansasA majority of Kansas public school students aren’t on track to be ready academically for college based on their scores on standardized English and math tests this past spring, a state report said Tuesday.

The State Department of Education released a summary of how roughly 260,000 students scored collectively, saying only 42 percent performed well enough on English tests to suggest they’re moving toward being ready for college or a career. The figure for the math tests was 34 percent.

For 10th graders, the figures were 31 percent for the English tests and 25 percent for the math tests.

Department officials and State Board of Education members acknowledged they’re not satisfied with the overall results. But they stressed that Kansas is reporting its first statewide data from tests that were revised to align with multistate Common Core academic standards, which they view as tougher.

The new tests emphasize critical thinking more than old tests and rely far less on multiple-choice questions, department officials said ahead of the report. Also, they said, the data reflect a shift in thinking away from emphasizing how many students are performing at or above their grade levels to focusing on how many are on track to be college or career-ready.

“We can do better,” said Scott Smith, the Department of Education’s testing director. “We can get these kids up to a higher bar.”

Previously, under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state’s standardized testing attempted to measure whether students were proficient in reading and math, with annual targets for increasing the percentages. Scores put students in one of five categories, ranging from “academic warning” to “exemplary.”

For the 2012-13 school year, the state reported that 86 percent of the students scored well enough on reading tests to be considered proficient or better. The figure was 80 percent for math tests.

The new report put students’ scores into four categories and junked the category labels, the lowest being Level 1. It also differentiated between students whose scores put them at grade level in English and math and at Level 2 and those who are performing well enough to be considered on track for college or a career, at Levels 3 and 4.

The report Tuesday said 80 percent of all students scored at or above their grade levels on English tests and 78 percent on math tests. State officials cautioned against comparing those figures with past reports on students’ proficiency because the revised tests are different and, they argue, more difficult.

Instead, Education Commissioner Randy Watson said, this year’s report provides a “baseline” for measuring progress in the future.

“This is given as a snapshot of where we don’t want to be in five years,” Watson said.

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