Most parents know how to interpret their own child's school report card. The basic A, B, C, D and F grading system tells them how well students are doing in each of their subjects.
But the state of Kansas also issues report cards on the schools themselves, and this year it changed to a new kind of "Building Report Card" that provides much more information about how well individual schools, districts and the Kansas education system as a whole are addressing the academic needs of their communities.
The new 2013 Building Report Cards were published this past week by the Kansas State Department of Education, this time using a new and, to some people, more complicated format. But state officials say the new reports give a richer and more detailed picture of how well each school is doing.
"Beyond simply identifying the child’s performance level, schools, teachers and parents will receive more meaningful data that identifies the rate by which the child is performing among like peers," KSDE spokeswoman Denise Kahler said. "The needs of every child, not just a range of children, will be identified and addressed."
The new report cards are the result of a federal waiver that Kansas received from requirements of No Child Left Behind. That law graded schools based on one measurement: the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on standardized reading and math tests.
The new system is still based on those standardized tests. But it replaces the old "Adequate Yearly Progress," or AYP benchmarks, which only measured the percentage of students scoring proficient or better on standardized tests, with a new system that rates schools across four different "Annual Measurable Objectives," or AMOs.
Those include improving overall academic performance; reducing achievement gaps; reducing the percentage of nonproficient students; and demonstrating growth in academic performance for individual students.
Here is a guide to interpreting each school's scores on those AMOs:
API: the basis for scoring
The basic yardstick Kansas now uses to measure school performance is the Assessment Performance Index, or API. That's a single number, based on several factors, that shows where one school or district stands relative to others. Separate APIs are calculated for reading and math.
API scores are based on a point system. Schools earn 1,000 points for each student who scores “exemplary” on a test; 750 points for each “exceeds standards” score; 500 points for each one that “meets standards;” and 250 points for each “approaches standards” score. No points are awarded for scores in the lowest, “academic warning” category.
That total number is then divided by the number of students counted in the score, and the result is the Assessment Performance Index score.
The Lawrence district's overall API for reading last year was 739, down one point from where it would have been based on 2012 test scores. In math, the districtwide API was 672, down 28 points from the year before.
Improving student achievement
The objective for improving achievement is different for each building, depending on its previous API score and the percentage of students scoring below the “meets standards” benchmark.
The AMO number for each school shows the expected level of improvement, based on where the school started, and actual levels of improvement over the past several years in schools throughout the state.
At Deerfield School, for example, the goal this year was to reach an API score of 769 in reading and 761 in math.
As Deerfield's report card shows, however, the school failed to meet either of those objectives. In fact, its API scores actually declined in both subjects.
That wasn't unusual because scores statewide declined in 2013, a trend that officials speculate was due, at least in part, to the use old tests that do not correspond to the new Common Core standards being used in classrooms.
Kansas will start using Common Core-aligned tests this coming spring with a one-time “transitional” test being developed by Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. The State Board of Education is expected to decide next month what tests will be used in future years.
Reducing achievement gaps
In the past, “achievement gaps” have been defined as the difference in average scores between various racial or ethnic groups, or between students from higher-income and lower-income families.
Kansas still monitors those gaps, but the new AMO for achievement gaps looks beyond race and income, focusing instead on the lowest-performing students regardless of their family background.
The new objective looks at two numbers: the API for the lowest-scoring 30 percent of students in a building, using the previous two years' worth of data; and the 70th percentile for all schools in Kansas at that grade level. The goal is to cut that gap in half over the course of six years.
At Southwest Middle School, for example, the reading API for the bottom 30 percent of students last year was 514. The state benchmark was 734. To cut that in half over six years, Southwest would need to raise its API for the bottom 30 percent by 18 points per year.
The report card shows that Southwest did boost the API for its lowest-scoring 30 percent in reading, but only by two points, which was shy of the goal of 18 points.
Southwest also made negative ground in closing the achievement gap in math because the API for the lowest-scoring 30 percent actually fell by 52 points.
This measurement is similar to the “gap” AMO, except that it looks at all of the various subgroups of students. The objective is to cut in half over six years the percentage of students in each subgroup who score below the “meets standards” level on state assessments.
In the case of Lawrence High School, the report shows that school met the objective for reducing nonproficiency in reading among economically disadvantaged students, those who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. But it fell short of the goal in all other subgroups. It also fell short of the goal across all subgroups in math.
The student growth AMO is designed to measure how well schools are helping individual students improve their performance over time.
The score is based on what state officials call a “growth model,” which is similar to a pediatrician's growth chart. It places students in peer groups and measures how they progress relative to their peers.
At the building level, the state calculates the year-to-year growth among all students in the building and finds the median, or midpoint. It then compares that score with the median statewide growth score. The goal for each building is to meet or exceed the statewide median.
Last year, Kennedy School's growth score for both reading and math was in the 60th percentile among all elementary schools. That means it's median growth score was better than 60 percent of all elementary schools in Kansas. So Kennedy met its objective for student growth last year.
2014 and beyond
Starting this spring, students throughout Kansas will begin taking new reading and math tests aligned to the new Common Core standards. Those will test students over different and supposedly more challenging material. And the state will use different “cut scores” to separate proficient, below-proficient and advanced student performance.
As a result, state officials said last week, the State Board of Education may want to consider “resetting” all of the baselines used to measure individual, school-level and district-level improvement over time.
That means that while the state will continue using the four AMOs to measure each school's performance, scores from the 2014 tests will not be comparable to any previous test, and they may have to be used as the new starting point against which future test results will be measured.