July 20, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

KSDE Star Awards recognize process, cover up declining outcomes

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The Kansas Department of Education’s Star Awards program is another means of covering up low achievement and helping school districts deceive parents.

Gold, Silver, Bronze, or Copper star awards are handed out in seven categories: graduation rates, academically prepared for postsecondary, postsecondary success, social-emotional growth, kindergarten readiness, individual plan of study, and civic engagement.  Only one – academic preparation – measures achievement gains.  The others may represent valid building blocks but they can be irrelevant to the point of deception if awards are given for having a process in place that isn’t producing results.

Kindergarten readiness is one such example.  USD 453 Superintendent Kellen Adams touts a Bronz Star for 2023 in a video posted to social media as recognition for “excellence and positive outcomes.”  The district may have good programs on paper, but state assessment results for 3rd-grade students tell a different story.

Proficiency in English Language Arts dropped from 37% in 2015 to 25% this year, while the portion below grade level jumped from 32% to 48%.  The decline was well underway before COVID, so that is not an excuse.

We can’t tell from the data alone if the problem is with the kindergarten programs or reading programs in grades one through three, but taking credit for an award in light of achievement declines is a disservice to students and parents.

Star awards for graduation rate are more reflective of attendance certificates

Adams also pointed to the district’s Copper award for its graduation rate being above the state average.  But as reported many times in the past, state assessment results indicate that many students receive a diploma even though they cannot read or do math at grade level.

More than half of 10th-graders at USD 453 Leavenworth have been below grade level for several years, and statewide almost half are below grade level.  Historical data also shows that achievement goes down as students move from one grade to the next, so there is no hope that students will suddenly get to grade level in their last two years of high school.

KSDE handed out 92 Gold and Silver star awards to school districts for their graduation rates in 2023, but only two Silver awards for Academically Prepared for Postsecondary (USD 207 Fort Leavenworth and USD 474 Haviland).  That’s another indication that KSDE and district officials know that graduation rates are not reflective of students being prepared for college and career, but they tout graduation rates because it makes them look better.

Most education officials (administrators, not teachers) want students to do better, but not if it means they have to change their behaviors for that to happen.  Consistently deceiving parents and ignoring state laws designed to improve outcomes shows their focus to be on sustaining their system at students’ expense.

School districts have no accountability for improving outcomes or even following state laws, so legislators must now decide whether to impose consequences or accept the fact that many students won’t get the education they need to succeed in life.


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