Canva art of student taking test Math and reading scores dipped on the Kansas Assessment Program tests administered earlier this year, which could hint at academic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Canva)
Canva art of student taking test Math and reading scores dipped on the Kansas Assessment Program tests administered earlier this year, which could hint at academic disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo illustration/Canva)

Kansas teachers, education leaders and policymakers are starting to get an idea of the pandemic’s toll on student learning across the state with the latest results from the Kansas Assessment Program.

Results from the spring 2021 state assessments show that students generally performed more poorly on the standardized tests after a year of disrupted learning.

But while school leaders will use that data to inform decisions on how to address any learning loss, parents can also use the state assessment scores to understand how their students are adapting to COVID-19-era education.

The Wichita Beacon has put together a guide on how parents can access state assessment scores for their students, and how to interpret them.

What are Kansas state assessments?

Kansas state assessments are a series of standardized tests designed mostly to gauge how effective teachers, schools and districts are at educating students in math, reading and science.

The assessments, required by state and federal accountability regulations, give educators a glimpse at whether policies may be succeeding or failing. They measure student progress against statewide learning standards.

They also give parents and teachers feedback on student strengths and weaknesses, as well as guidance on the kinds of additional support and lesson plans teachers can implement.

“As a foundation, state assessments are designed to tell patrons of school districts and parents if their schools are doing a good job in their mission of educating students,” said Michael Muenks, associate director at the University of Kansas’ Accessible Teaching, Learning and Assessment Systems center. The center works with the Kansas State Department of Education to design and develop the assessments.

Students take the standardized tests by computer in their own schools during the state assessment testing window, which generally opens in late March and runs through April.

Not all students take all state assessments. In Kansas, only third through eighth grade and 10th grade students take the math and English language arts assessments. Students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades also take a science assessment. 

What state assessments aren’t: While individual student assessment scores are shared with parents, they shouldn’t be interpreted as end-all, be-all indicators of academic abilities, Muenks said.

He emphasized that state assessment scores are but one metric of student potential, and that’s why they aren’t used in calculating student grades.

How can I find my student’s state assessment scores?

Since state assessments are administered each spring, student scores are typically reported late in the school year.

Teachers will normally walk parents through their student’s assessment report at the first parent-teacher conference of the following school year, Muenks said. At that conference, teachers will go over any areas of strength or concern and work with parents to address student needs.

Parents can also directly access their children’s current and historical assessment reports online by visiting the Kite Parent Portal. 

To register, you’ll need to provide the email you used for school district communications, a registration code sent to that email and the student’s state identifier. School districts can assist parents through any challenges obtaining the assessment records.

How are state assessments scored?

Scores are given based on the number of questions answered correctly, with some questions receiving varying amounts of points. No points are deducted for incorrect answers.

Those points are then converted to a scaled score ranging from 220 to 380. The scaled score will fall into one of four performance level categories based on the assessment’s analysis of the student’s ability to understand and use the skills and knowledge needed for college and career readiness. 

Those performance levels are:

  • Level 1 — The student shows a limited ability for their grade level.
  • Level 2 — The student shows a basic ability.
  • Level 3 — The student shows an effective ability.
  • Level 4 — The student shows an excellent ability.

The exact scaled score ranges for each performance level vary between grades and assessment subject, but all Level 3 scores start at 300. Level 3 is considered grade-level learning, and school districts usually target Level 3 scores, Muenks said.

What do assessment scores tell me about my student?

At the district and state levels, school officials will look at the percentages of students reaching each performance level. Those reports are available at the Kansas State Department of Education’s Building Report Card website.

But at the individual student level, assessment reports also identify students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, in addition to their raw and scaled scores.

Parents will also find a list of skills the student has likely mastered, as well as proficiency in different subcategories like vocabulary and making conclusions.

Beside the assessment scores, the reports include a projection of how the student would perform on the ACT based on their math and English scores. The assessment also reports Lexile and Quantile scores, which help give parents a national percentile comparison of student performance.

How should I interpret pandemic year assessment scores?

The important thing, as with any other state assessment year, is context, Muenks said. In other words, the test really only shows how much a student was able to demonstrate on a single test each spring.

“We all feel sick sometimes, or we have other things going on in our lives,” Muenks said. “All of those things need to be taken into context.”

The context for last year was the pandemic and the efforts students, parents and teachers had to make to continue providing education, he said.

Additionally, student experiences across the state varied, with some districts offering in-person school practically the entire year, while others had long periods of remote learning.

That’s why overall scores in Kansas dipped but aren’t drastically different from 2019 — the last point of comparison. Some students, schools and districts likely even saw increases in overall scores, Muenks said.

“We can recognize that students may not have learned as much as we would have hoped (during the pandemic),” Muenks said. “That doesn’t mean teachers aren’t addressing that this year.”

Ahead of the 2022 assessment window, Muenks said parents shouldn’t worry or panic about preparing students to take the tests. As with any other schoolwork, the best thing parents can do is encourage students to do their best.

“That’s the nice thing (about the state assessments),” he said. “There aren’t actually any consequences from the classroom or parent standpoints. It’s about telling how well the school and district do at educating kids.”

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Garcia was an education reporter at The Wichita Beacon and Report for America corps member.