Tag Archives: Achivement

Kansas on the Nation’s Report Card Summarized

How do Kansas schools stack up against schools across the country? In order to answer that question, we need to use a measurement that is applied across the country.

Kansas scores compared with score for the USA

The following table suggests that Kansas schools are doing better than those in the rest of the country. It shows the percentage of students who score “at or above proficient” on four key tests on the “Nation’s Report Card.” Numbers in parentheses–(4) or (8)–indicated the grade level at which the test was given.

Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
USA 32 30 38 33
Kansas 35 33* 46 40

In three of the four tests, Kansas outperformed the nation.The asterisk (*) in the fourth means that the difference between the USA and Kansas is not statistically different. That is, it could have happened by chance. (Think of it as the “margin of error” that you hear of in public opinion surveys and you’ve got roughly the same idea.)

While having less than half of the students at proficient isn’t great, at least Kansas is above the national average. Or is it?

Breaking it down further

Let’s look closer. The following table offers a summary of the state’s performance by demographic group.

Group of students Do Kansas students test better than those in the country as a whole?
All students Yes–In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math
White students No
Black students No
Hispanic students Yes, in grade 4 math
American Indian students No difference for grade 8 reading; data not available for grade 4 reading or math
Asian/Pacific Islander students No difference for reading or grade 4 math; data not available for grade 8 math
English language learners No
Students with disabilities No
Low-income students Yes-In grade 4 reading, grade 4 math, and grade 8 math

You can find this information by consulting  National Center for Education Statistics, using NAEP Reading scores and NAEP mathematic scores. Look at whether the percentage of students within each group in Kansas who scored “at or above proficient” is “significantly different from” the percentage for the same group of students in the nation as a whole.

What explains higher state scores?

So where do the “above average” scores in the first table come from? It’s pretty simple. It provides group-specific percentages of students who score at or above proficient.

Race or ethnicity Reading (4) Reading (8) Math (4) Math (8)
White students 42 41 51 44
Black students 16 14 16 12
Hispanic students 17 17 22 17
Asian/Pacific students 49 45 60 54
American Indian students 20 21 21 18

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2008, 80.3 percent of the Kansas population was “White persons not Hispanic,” while the comparable number for the USA was 65.5 percent. In other words, Kansas is 23 percent whiter than the USA (80.3/65.5). Given that white students score higher on the NAEP than students of other racial or ethnic groups, their preponderant numbers in Kansas guarantee that Kansas will outscore the country on the “Nation’s Report Card.”

We can argue all day long about the quality of Kansas schools, but the state’s performance on a nationally recognized test that is administered to a sample of schools in each state does not prove that Kansas schools are better than those anywhere else.

Hispanics in Kansas as unlikely as Hispanics elsewhere to score “Proficient” on NAEP

“Kansas schools don’t need X; they do ready than the rest of the country. Why fix something that isn’t broken?” You’ll hear that sort of sentiment when you bring up the topic of charter schools, changes to tenure policies or other changes in school laws.

But is it true? I’ve already shown, using data from the U.S. Department of Education, that while Kansas does score better on math and reading than the nation as a whole, that better-than-average performance is based on the state’s whiter-than-average population. White students in Kansas do no better on the Nation’s Report Card than white students in the U.S. as a whole. Meanwhile, black students do no better than black students elsewhere.

How about Hispanic students? Here are the numbers. Again, the first number I give for each pair of scores is for the nation, and the second number is for Kansas. The first pair represents the scale score on the NAEP test; the second pair refers to the percentage of students who score at or above the “proficient” level.


Grade 4:

  • Scale score: 204/210 *
  • At or above proficient: 16/20*

Grade 8:

  • Scale score: 262/267
  • At or above proficient: 30/33*


Grade 4

  • Scale score: 227/233
  • At or above proficient:  21/24*

Grade 8

  • Scale score: 266/274
  • At or above proficient: 17/22*


The scale score for Hispanics in Kansas on the mathematics test is higher than the scale score for Hispanics nationally. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you look at percentage of Hispanic students who score proficient or better , the difference is not statistically significant.

How can that be? Think of the scale score and the proficiency level (at or above proficiency or not) as analogous to the raw scale on a test and the assigned letter grade. A score of 89 on a history test may be higher than a score of 83, but they both earn a “B.” Likewise, the scale score in Kansas is higher than the scale score of the nation, but when you translate that score into how many  of the students earn the “proficiency” mark, Kansas is no different from the rest of the country.

In short, the superior performance of Kansas schools is more wishful thinking than reality.