Economic and ethnic achievement gaps persist in 2017, state test results show

photo by: Kansas State Department of Education

Kansas State Department of Education

? Kansas public schools made virtually no progress in the past year in narrowing the achievement gaps between economic classes and ethnic subgroups, according to results from the latest round of statewide reading and math tests.

Among high school students, those from upper-income families were more than three times as likely to score at or above grade level on state math exams than students on free or reduced-price meals, according to Kansas State Department of Education data. And they were nearly two and a half times more likely to score well on English language arts exams.

Meanwhile, fewer than 9 percent of African-American high school students and only about 10 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above grade level in math, compared with nearly 29 percent of their white counterparts.

Kansas high school state assessment results, by economic class and racial subgroups, 2016-2017.

Similar gaps occurred among racial subgroups on English language arts exams.

“That is no surprise because of the lack of funds,” Alan Rupe, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the ongoing school finance lawsuit, said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

In a ruling Oct. 2, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the current school funding system as inadequate and unconstitutional, despite the fact that lawmakers had added nearly $200 million in new funding this year.

Much of the reasoning behind that decision was based on the number of students in Kansas scoring below state standards in reading and math and the fact that even with this year’s increase, base per-pupil aid in the new formula was still below where it was in 2008, before the state began cutting education budgets in the wake of the Great Recession.

The Kansas State Department of Education announced the 2017 testing results during its regular monthly meeting last week.

An analysis of those results by the Journal-World showed that the majority of Kansas high school students still are not performing up to state standards in reading and math and that large gaps continue to exist between economic and racial subgroups of students.

Rupe said those findings were predictable.

“The official scores weren’t out (when the Supreme Court decision was announced), but the schools had been notified of what their scores would be,” Rupe said. “So we knew there were declines in the disadvantaged areas, and we knew there was flat-lining going on, and the gaps did not close.”

Although the court did not specifically order lawmakers to add more money for school funding, it said the state had failed to meet its burden of showing how the amount of money provided in the new plan was “reasonably calculated” to have all students meet or exceed the basic measures of a quality education.

The court also strongly suggested that significantly more dollars need to be added to the system, based on cost estimates that were considered at trial, as well as the Kansas State Board of Education’s own budget requests.

Schools for Fair Funding, the group of school districts behind the current lawsuit, has said lawmakers need to add another $600 million per year in school funding, an amount the state could not possibly afford without a major tax increase or significant spending cuts in other areas of the state budget.

Although the court had previously said it would not allow schools to open this year under an unconstitutional funding system, it did not follow through on that threat in the most recent decision. It did, however, give the state until April 30, 2018, to file new briefs in the case showing how lawmakers have addressed the adequacy issue.

Oral arguments on the Legislature’s next plan are scheduled for May 22, and the court has said it will render a decision by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.