By MARK TALLMAN
Kansas Association of School Boards
Differences in academic success among Kansas student groups are receiving attention this year.
In the Gannon school finance lawsuit, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Kansas school finance was not constitutionally adequate because too many students were not meeting state standards, and those students were disproportionately poor, non-white or disabled. The court approved a multi-year funding plan passed by the Legislature to address those students, shifting the focus to how schools are using those funds to improve results.
The State Board of Education’s “Kansas Can” goals are centered on getting more students to complete high school and go on to earn a postsecondary credential to meet the state’s economic needs and earn a higher standard of living. Many students are at-risk of failing to meet those goals.
Finally, the Kansas Legislature has commissioned its Post Audit Division to study how Kansas provides extra funding to school districts to help students at risk of poor academic performance or dropping out of school, which could result in changes in the $415 million program. This follows a study of special education funding last year, and a future audit will look at bilingual education funding.
This series looks at the major issues in the “achievement gap” between different groups of students, how current programs are working to address those differences, and issues under study.
Part 1 – Impact of student and family income on student success
Lower income students are more likely to struggle on educational measures like test scores and graduation rates than higher income students.
On Kansas state assessments, over 70 percent of all students score at the what the State Board of Education has defined as “basic” ability to understand and use the mathematics and English Language Arts skills and knowledge needed for college and career readiness. However, less than 60 percent of free/reduced lunch eligible students are at that level, compared to over 80 percent of higher income students.
Likewise, about one-third of all students scored at the “effective” level, which is considered “on track” for postsecondary success, in mathematics and 37 percent in English. But only 19 percent of free and reduced lunch eligible students scored at that level in math and 23 percent in English, compared to 45 and 50 percent for non-low-income students.
The four-year graduation rate for all students is 88 percent but only 80 percent for free/reduced meals eligible students graduate “on time”, compared to 95 percent of higher-income students.
These differences are not unique to Kansas, or to public schools. On the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), which tests a sample of students at fourth and eighth grade on reading and math skills in all states, Kansas had a 22.6 percent gap between free and reduced meal eligible students and not eligible students at the Basic level, compared to 23.6 percent for all states and 24.7 percent for Kansas overall peer states (most similar to Kansas in student and population characteristics). Kansas had a 28.4 percent gap at the Proficient level, compared to 27.7 in all states and 27.9 percent for states.
The five non-public school systems that participate in Kansas State Assessments (Lutheran schools and the Catholic dioceses of Dodge City, Kansas City, Salina, and Wichita) have gaps between free and reduced meal eligible and non-eligible students of 10 to 20 percent at the Basic level and 20 to 30 or higher at the Effective level.
Reasons for the income-achievement gap
A number of reasons have been advanced for these differences (here is a chapter from a report presented by the ASCD, formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Design). The conclusions are that students from low income or impoverished families experience more stress that negatively affects their development, begin school with fewer resources and therefore start behind their more advantaged peers, and have less home support and more disruption throughout their years in school.
Specifically, lower income students are more likely to lack adequate food and health care. They are more likely to live in single-parent (or grandparent) households, with one or more parents absent or incarcerated. They are more likely to be homeless. They are more likely to experience “trauma” or “Adverse Childhood Experiences” that affect their development. While there are many exceptions, they are more likely to start school with smaller vocabularies, less socialization and basic skills.
Lower income parents are more likely to have unstable employment and housing, which leads to more frequent moving from home to home, school to school. They have less reliable transportation and parents may be working multiple jobs at hours that make it more difficult to monitor student attendance and progress, and be involved in school activities.
Finally, these families are less able to afford enrichments such as home computer and internet access, travel and vacations, sports, clubs and other activities. In other words, more of these families simply lack the resources to support their students at the same level as higher income families.
Because income is now so closely linked to education level, lower income families are likely to have parents who did less well in school and have less postsecondary education themselves. Therefore, their students may receive less guidance, understanding or even support for educational attainment as a priority. In fact, school leaders say some parents may actually discourage students from further education, concerned they may “lose” their children if they pursue education that leads to employment away from home.
The result is a difficult cycle to break. Students from lower income families are less likely to complete high school and college; as a result, they are more likely to have lower income as adults and their children with face the same challenges.
Of course, this does not mean all lower income students are failing; nearly 60 percent of these students score at least at basic on state tests and 80 percent graduate on time; and nearly one in five higher income students are below basic and five percent do not graduate from high school, at least within four years. The data is clear, however, that lower income students are much more likely to be behind on academic standards, fail to complete high school and be unprepared for postsecondary education.
Mark Tallman is the associate executive director for advocacy and communications for the Kansas Association of School Boards.