Topeka In the fall of 2012, state education officials were stunned to learn that student test scores statewide in reading and math had fallen for the first time in more than a decade
They also were shocked to learn that achievement gaps for low-income students, blacks and Hispanics were widening after a decade of progress in narrowing those gaps.
Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker announced at that time she would convene a task force to look into the causes of the trend and explore ways to address it.
A year later, though, the same trends continued, and the task force that DeBacker promised barely ever got off the ground.
"We have not done much since about the summer of last year," DeBacker said last week. "I'm not sure whether I'll pull that group together or not. We may need to expand it."
Those achievement gaps will be among the topics DeBacker addresses Tuesday when she gives her monthly report to the Kansas State Board of Education. That will include the agency's yearly "accountability report."
That report examines a host of demographic, financial and student achievement data from the previous year, as well as challenges facing Kansas schools for the coming year.
State officials offered several theories about why student test scores dropped again in 2013. For one, that was the year classroom teachers really started shifting to the new Common Core standards for reading and math, but the state assessments given in the spring were still aligned to the old standards that were no longer in place.
This spring, students will take a new assessment aligned to Common Core standards that is being developed by Kansas University's Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation. State officials have cautioned that those scores probably will not be comparable to earlier test scores, and instead will represent a new base from which future tests will be compared.
Others suggested it was a predictable result of state budget cuts, which resulted in larger class sizes and the elimination of many programs such as after-school tutoring that were aimed at helping disadvantaged children.
Over the same period, other indicators of academic success remained positive, although there were few measurable gains. Kansas students continued to outperform the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exam, as well as high school ACT and SAT exams.
But DeBacker said the achievement gaps remain a big concern for school officials and families throughout the state.
"We will do something in 2014, because we're getting a lot of encouragement to do something from outside groups," she said. "The thing to remember is there's not one program or silver bullet you can put in place. You need to have the right people at the table too."
The State Board of Education meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Topeka.
In other business, the state board will:
• Hear an update on the use of Individual Plans of Study and consider a recommendation on whether to require them for all students in Kansas.
• Recognize Lawrence Superintendent Rick Doll as the Kansas Superintendent of the year, along with others named Principals of the Year.
• Receive the Special Education Advisory Committee annual report.
• Hear a presentation on high school feedback reports.
• Hear a report on matters pending in the Kansas Legislature.
• Receive the Career and Technical Student Organizations' Report and hear a presentation by CTSO officers.
• Hear a presentation by Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
• And host an open house Wednesday for state legislators and the public.