Archive for Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lawrence students outperform state on ACT exams

August 21, 2013


Lawrence high school students who took the ACT college entrance exam last spring outperformed their peers in the rest of the state and throughout the country.

According to the school district, Lawrence students taking the test last year had an average composite score of 23.7, on a scale of 1 to 36. That compared to the statewide average of 21.8 and the national average of 20.9.

The 2013 score was half a point higher than last year's average score, but still below the 2011 average of 24, the highest average score Lawrence schools have posted in the past several years.

Statewide, the average ACT score in Kansas fell one-tenth of a point from last year to 21.8, but that exceeded the national average of 21.1.

Lawrence officials released data about local scores shortly after ACT released state and national data from the 2013 tests.

The ACT is one of two major national exams that high school seniors can take to help them get into college. The other is the SAT, but in Kansas the ACT is by far the most common for graduating seniors.

Also, Kansas traditionally has a high participation rate in the ACT exams. About 75 percent of Kansas seniors took the ACT last year. Last year, state officials said, about 81 percent of seniors took the test.

In Lawrence, students at Free State High School scored better than those at Lawrence High School. Free State's average score was 24.4, the highest at that school since at least 2009. Lawrence High posted an average score of 23, up four-tenths of a point from 2011, but lower than the school's average in 2011.

Lawrence district officials were not immediately available to comment on the report. But state officials said there were interesting trends in the statewide numbers.

College readiness

Although the average score in Kansas fell by a tenth of a point, state officials noted that the number of students meeting ACT's "college readiness" benchmarks for English, reading, math and science grew in 2013.

According to ACT, that's the score that indicates a student has at least a 50 percent chance of earning a B or better in freshman-level college courses, or a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C.

The Kansas State Department of Education said 30 percent of Kansas students who took the test in 2013 met all four benchmarks in 2013, up from 29 percent the year before. Meanwhile, 78 percent of Kansas students met at least one of the benchmarks, while 22 percent failed to meet any of them.

That was better than the national average of just 26 percent who met all the benchmarks, while 69 percent demonstrated college readiness in at least one core subject. The other 31 percent failed to meet any of the benchmarks.

Lawrence district officials did not provide data about the number of students who met the college readiness benchmarks.

State officials said some of the change in college readiness scores over the last year was due, at least in part, to the fact that ACT adjusted those benchmarks in 2013. The benchmark was raised by one point for reading, which resulted in a large drop in the number of Kansas students meeting the new mark.

Meanwhile the science benchmark was lowered by one point, resulting in a sharp increase, to 42 percent, in the number of students meeting that college readiness standard.

Core curriculum important

State officials said the scores confirm the importance of students taking core coursework in high school: four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

"Statistics show that students who complete core coursework consistently score higher on all areas of the ACT exam than students who do not complete core coursework," the department said in a statement released Tuesday.

In Kansas, the department said, students who completed the core curriculum or more in high school scored 3.5 points higher than those who did not, and 0.8 points higher than the statewide average.

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GUMnNUTS 4 years, 9 months ago

Thank you teachers! The administration is still bloated though.

Sam Crow 4 years, 9 months ago

This is great news. That is, if we want to compare ourselves to Dodge City and Mississippi.

But, our kids should be competing with schools from other comparative districts.

The 23.7 composite for Lawrence looks pretty good, until you realize Blue Valley announced a district score of 25.

The 24.4 sounds great for Free State, until you find out it is lower than nearby Olathe East. And EVERY Blue Valley school score was higher than Free State.

Though as of this moment Shawnee Mission hasn’t released its current data, LAST YEAR the district composite there was 24.

These are the people Lawrence students compete with for admissions and scholarships.

In the meantime, we can congratulate ourselves for being “above average”.

GUMnNUTS 4 years, 9 months ago

Check out what blue valley school district can pay it's teachers. Lawrence has lost a bunch of their beat teachers for a short comute and much better pay.

Sam Crow 4 years, 9 months ago

Using that worn out argument, I would guess that Free State teachers make more than LHS teachers then, right?

And since the Free State composite is the highest since 2009, where is the pay correlation to scores?

But yet, the private high schools regularly score higher than comparable public schools, despite teachers salaries being less.

Explain that.

IreneAdler84 4 years, 9 months ago

Private high schools can pick who they educate. Public schools educate all takers. Not hard to figure out that one.

Sam Crow 4 years, 9 months ago

Another worn out argument. Private schools also don’t have to deal with the NEA, overabundant hierarchies of administrators, and politically correct curriculums. To name just a few.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

They've compared private and public schools, and when you correct for factors like socioeconomic status, private schools do no better than public.

Furthermore, when you compare the richest public schools in the USA to the richest students in the entire rest of the world, you'll find that we even out perform Finland. It's not the NEA. It's not the administrators. It's not the politically correct curriculum.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 8 months ago

When you say "when you correct for factors like socioeconomic status ... (public vs. private)", you're making a well intentioned attempt to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. The way I see it is that parents see publics schools (apples), see it as undesirable, therefore attempt to put their children into a different environment (oranges). Maybe it's time for public schools to look at the private school model and see if they can learn something from what has become in may ways a very different model.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

Like what?

Are you suggesting that public schools simply refuse to accept any number of students because they come from underprivileged backgrounds? Runs kind of counter to the idea of "public" education, doesn't it?

Also, of course, there's a cyclical effect there - as more parents of well off kids take those kids out of public schools, the quality declines, and more parents take their kids out,....

jhawkinsf 4 years, 8 months ago

Let me tell you something my child told me when I did have him enrolled in a public school. One day, I asked him how a certain class went that day and he told me things went very slow, because they were always going at the pace of the slowest student. WOW. That's an observation I would expect from a trained observer, or at the very least a concerned parent. If it's obvious to him, at that age, in grade school, then it must be obvious.

Public schools are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Segregating kids out because they have issues is simply not in their best interests. However, mainstreaming them is not in the best interests of the kids without issues. Public schools are in a no win situation. Because of that, I would never fault them when they fail. I also believe that the overwhelming majority of the problems that are brought into schools originate in the home. Again, another reason to not fault schools.

Because of the problems in public schools, private schools have in many case decided to go in another direction, or to develop another model. If public schools are apples, then private schools are oranges. Chootspa's relentless attempts to "correct for socioeconomic factors ... " is an attempt to say that if apples tasted like oranges and oranges tasted like apples, then all would be good.

Let me tell you one more story, Jafs. You said you grew up in a very large city, with I presume to be a very large public school system. So did I, though it was many years ago, and frankly, much has changed in the years since I attended. We have five classes in each grade in school, each labeled from 1-5. So if you were in the second grade, the five classes were labeled 2-1, 2-2, 2-3, 2-4 and 2-5. All the smart kids were in 2-1 and the slower kids were 2-5. Teachers didn't say it, but we all knew. That was a system that doomed the slower kids from the beginning and we rightfully moved away from that type of system. However, mainstreaming problem children leads to situations like those that I found myself in with my child. Yes, public schools are stuck between a rock and a hard place. However well intentioned mainstreaming was, at some point, it may be time to admit it has failed and that it's time to go back to the former system, even while admitting that system has it's flaws as well.

jafs 4 years, 8 months ago

So, what's your suggestion for improving public education?

If you're just saying we should segregate lower performing students from higher ones, how will that improve the education of slower performing students?

The whole idea of public education is that each child, regardless of background, money, etc. gets an adequate education - if we're not doing that, then we should figure out how to do it.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 8 months ago

The problem is that I don't have the answer and neither do they. There are no good answers.

This is what I believe. We've made great efforts to mainstream some children, children with significant issues, hoping to enhance their educational experience. But it's been at the expense of children without issues. We're providing something to one group at the expense of the other.

Children who have disruptive behavior should be removed from mainstream classes. Children who are unprepared should be removed from mainstream classes. Children who cannot keep up should be removed. However, it would be cruel to simply throw these children away, if for no reason other than what I've said before that their problems begin at home and are probably the result of what is going on in dysfunctional homes. How can schools balance the needs of these children with the rights of children without these problems? For these children, I would provide classes in public schools, but away from other children. Yes, they would have recess at other times, lunch at other times, but as compensation, more individual instruction. In fact, it would be a lot more individual instruction. Hopefully, at some future time, they could join their peers. All this individual instruction would cost more money. I've said many times I support more money for schools and I continue to hold that position.

Peter Hancock 4 years, 9 months ago

It's true that higher pay helps attract the best teachers. But that's not the only thing. It's also about working conditions. Olathe draws from Lawrence (and vice-versa, by the way), but they've also been recruiting teachers out of KCK and KCMO. The supt. of KCK testified at the school finance trial last summer that they've had teachers recruited out from under them to go to Johnson County in the middle of a contract year, even though the teachers have to pay liquidated damages for breaking their contract.

Some have argued that the highest pay really ought to go to teachers who are willing to work in the poorest, most troubled schools where test scores are persistently low and where students need them the most. But there has never been a concerted, statewide or nationwide effort to make that happen because (a) it's very expensive, and (b) money isn't the only thing that attracts the best teachers.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

According to their website, they're ok with higher salaries for hard to staff schools.

Sam Crow 4 years, 9 months ago

Because my spouse is in education, my house gets the regular mailings from the NEA, state and national. The group is for total pay equity. That is the reason higher pay for better teachers is objected to. Higher pay for hard to staff schools would simply be a new pay scale.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

Paying for test performance would mean that the teachers in hard to staff schools would receive less pay.

William Ed 4 years, 9 months ago

The above comments are germane, however, it is interesting that LHS scored more poorly than Free State. Is that because the teacher pay is lower? Since only the students that take the ACT are the ones who are interested in pursuing more advanced education, it would seem that the cohort of students from both schools would be equal. The only thing that is different then is the quality of teaching. That seems to me to have an odor to it that no one wants to smell.

chootspa 4 years, 9 months ago

The cohort isn't exactly equal. West and East Lawrence aren't equal. LHS has twice the free/reduced lunch rate eligibility as Free State. Income is one of the biggest predictors of school performance. I don't know anything about a pay disparity between the two schools, but if there is, shame on them.

Sam Crow 4 years, 9 months ago

The education establishment is full of excuses for why there cant be comparisons among and between teachers, schools and districts. This one is free lunches. If it wasnt that, it would be experience of teachers or quality of the the physical building or anything else to avoid comparing. Lawrence is a small city. Comparing FS and LHS is not like comparing an urban school to a suburban school in Wichita.

It is the school districts that prevent the Ks Department of Education from releasing scores on a statewide basis, though they obviously have the data. They want no comparison, because one group will look worse than another. And that is not allowed.

Interestingly, soon the feds will begin comparing health care entities, such as hospitals, or insurance companies, based on outcomes. The patient demographics in the comparison will not matter.

bevy 4 years, 9 months ago

SamCrow, the free lunch status is used as an indicator of poverty level, since that is the only available data that schools have to make such a determination. It has been amply demonstrated that students from poorer homes do not fare as well in testing as those in richer homes. This is due to many factors such as less parental engagement (not because parents don't care, but because they may be working two jobs to feed their kids) less access to technology, etc. Many poorer students also work themselves, giving them less time for study. These are not excuses, but valid reasons from a purely statistical standpoint, of why it is hard to do an apples-to-apples comparison between schools, classrooms, states, etc.

Your comment about healthcare outcomes is interesting. While there are disparities in health related to poverty as well, it is likely far easier to compare two patients who are both overweight and smoke and have heart attacks as it is to compare two very different students taking the same standardized test.

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