Topeka — While Kansas isn't moving closer to the head of the class on some national math and reading tests, a top education official said Wednesday the state's normally strong grades don't show serious signs of slipping either.
Kansas fourth- and eighth-grade students continued to score better than their peers across the nation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests for reading and math. Results were released Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency administering the tests.
However, the state's average scores generally didn't change significantly during the past two years, nor did the percentages of students who performed at a basic level or greater change significantly.
The exception was the math test for fourth-graders, where Kansas students' average score was slightly better this year than it was in 2003, and more students showed either proficient or advanced skills.
On the fourth-grade math test, only Massachusetts had a higher average score, and Kansas was among the top 10 states in both eighth-grade tests. While 23 other states had higher average scores on the fourth-grade reading test, only 11 were far enough ahead that test administrators considered the gap significant.
"We have not lost ground," said Deputy Education Commissioner Alexa Posny. "We're still one of the highest performing states in the nation, which is great news."
The center administers the tests every two years to a sample of students in each state. About 11,700 Kansas students took the tests this year, with 101 schools participating in the math test and 100 in the reading test.
It was unclear whether Lawrence students participated.
"The testing is totally random," said Terry McEwen, an assessment specialist for Lawrence public schools. "We don't know who takes the test and who doesn't."
It's possible, McEwen said, that Lawrence students did not take part.
"I don't remember seeing one of our buildings on the list," he said.
Still, he said, the latest results are in line with those from the in-state assessments released by the Kansas State Board of Education last week.
"It's consistent with the performance levels we're finding on the local level," McEwen said. "In elementary school, students' reading and math skills are getting stronger, and in junior high those skill sets are being maintained."
Federal officials were wary about making state-to-state comparisons because of the differences in the percentages of minority and poor students.
Still, the tests give states a general idea of how they're doing compared with other states, said Andy Tompkins, a Kansas University education professor and former state education commissioner. It's a better way to make comparisons than examining the results of various states' own testing, he said.
"We always thought it was pretty helpful," Tompkins said. "The assessments in Kansas are going to be different from the assessments in Mississippi."
The average math score for fourth-graders was 246 on a 500-point scale, compared with 242 in 2003, enough of a jump to be statistically significant. Massachusetts' score was 247.
Also, the percentage of Kansas fourth-graders who failed to demonstrate basic math skills fell to 12 percent this year, down from 15 percent. Also, 47 percent had proficient or advanced skills, compared with 42 percent in 2003.
"The trend you'd like to see is an increasing number of kids at proficient and above," Tompkins said.
Kansas fourth-graders' average reading score was 220, the same as in 2003, compared with a national average of 217.
The eighth-grade reading score was 267, seven points above the national average but only a single point above 2003's figure. Eighth-graders posted an average score of 284 for math, the same as in 2003, with the national average this year at 278.
The gap between black and white students in the percentage showing basic skills or better closed on both eighth-grade tests and the fourth-grade math test but remained about the same on the fourth-grade reading test.
Hispanics gained some ground from 2003 compared with white students on the eighth-grade reading tests but lost ground on the fourth-grade reading tests. The gap remained about the same on the other two tests.