TOPEKA — Benjamin Scafidi, the Kennesaw State director of the Education Economics Center, visited the Kansas House on Wednesday to discuss public school spending per student and its effect on student performance in state standardized tests.
According to Scafidi, who also formerly served as the chair of the Charter School Commission of Georgia, there is no correlation between school spending and standardized test results, contrary to popular belief.
Scafidi appropriately chose to focus on the performance of students attending public elementary and secondary schools in the state of Kansas, and compared them to that of students in Florida and Arizona —the states that have seen the highest increase in performance from 2003 to 2017.
Citing test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress , a test that periodically measures students’ proficiency in subjects ranging from math and reading to civics and economics, Scafidi pointed out that Kansas students’ scores have been nearly the same for over four decades, despite a 140 percent increase in spending per student during that same time.
“State tests don’t seem to be a good metric of student performance,” Scafidi told the House.
His solution to plateauing tests scores is, as he puts it, accountability. He believes that schools need to have a “rich curricula”, focus less on standardized state tests, and use clear labels for performance, such as the A through F grading scale, which many schools have done away with. He also believes that teachers should be given more liberty to choose what and how they want to teach.
When it was time to open the floor for discussion, Rep. Nancy Lusk (D-Overland Park) pointed out that the bar has been raised significantly in recent years for what is expected of students, which may contribute to the stagnant test scores. She also cited the increasing number of Kansas students living in poverty, saying that oftentimes coming from lower income households can raise academic challenges and lead to lower test scores.
Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stilwell) raised concern about schools manipulating what students are to be graded on if they are given more liberty to do so.
Scafidi noted that in his home state of Georgia, there was a cheating scandal in Atlanta in 2008-2009 in which adults were erasing students’ incorrect answers on scantrons and filling in the correct responses. As a result of this, Georgia has become the only state in the country to publish their erasure analysis, which is essentially an analysis of patterns in eraser marks on scantrons to assess whether or not it has been tampered with.
The thought of tests scores increasing while state spending on schools’ decreases may perhaps sound like something of fiction, but according to Scafidi, it is a possibility if his suggestions are taken into account.
Marissa Ventrelli is a University of Kansas junior from Chicago majoring in journalism.