Journey of a Superintendent: Nobody is Going to Make Money by Misusing Our Data

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of  the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Dr. Cynthia Lane, Superintendent of
the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools

Remember when you were in junior high school, and a friend would come and tell you that someone was spreading lies about you behind your back, saying things that weren’t true? Do you remember how frustrated and angry you would get? Well, this week, I felt a wave of those feelings rise up inside me, when I learned that a website had listed four of our high schools as being among the worst schools in the nation!

I have to tell you, I may not be very tall, but I grew up with a lot of fight in me, and I went straight into “fight” mode. How DARE they, a website located halfway across the country, put up a list that deliberately misuses data, in a way that slanders our students, our staff and this community! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? (See, I’m mad again . . .)

Let me back up and explain what they did. I have told you before in this space that our goal as a district is that “Each student will exit high school prepared for college and careers in a global society . . .” When we learned a few years ago that some of our students who were scoring proficient on the state exam were still not prepared for college (and were having to enroll in remedial classes) we decided we needed to find a more rigorous test, one which would be a true measure of college preparedness.

We selected the ACT test, the same test that colleges and universities across the country use to ensure that students are prepared. We asked for and received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, and now we use that test as our state accountability test for high school students. To do this, unlike almost all other districts across Kansas, and most districts across the country, we test ALL of our students on the ACT (including students who had not previously planned to consider going to college).

When we made this decision, we knew that, at least initially, the number of students who scored “proficient” on the ACT (which we set at a score of 21, the level required for admission to Kansas universities) was going to drop. Our Board of Education made the decision that this would be acceptable to start, since we would know we aren’t excluding any students, and that we would be testing them on a real measure of college preparedness. We would have fewer “proficient” students than other districts in the state, but since our students were taking a much harder test, our scores couldn’t be compared to other districts in Kansas.

Or so we thought . . . I have to tell you, in my wildest nightmares, it never occurred to me that a for-profit company would take data from the state website, ignore the clear warning that students in KCK take a different test and their proficiency scores can’t be compared with other districts, compare that data anyway, and label some of our schools as among the worst in the nation.

What frustrates me most is that it feels like we are being slandered for doing the very things our parents taught us to do. We learned that we should always do the right thing, which we are doing, by giving students a meaningful test that will accurately assess how well prepared for college they are. We should always tell the truth, which we are doing by giving a rigorous test, even if it makes it harder for students to reach proficiency, and be open and honest about what our data is, and what work we still have to do.

When we chose to go down the path of more rigorous standards, we described it as an expression of belief in our students, in our staff, and in this community. Those beliefs haven’t changed. And let me be clear: Nobody is going to make money by misrepresenting the hard work of our students and staff. When you misuse data in order to take a cheap shot at us, we will swing back, hard.

Oh, and one more thing: I want to express my deep appreciation to all those, including students, staff and community members, who stood up to defend the district when they saw this website posting, knowing that it had to be incorrect. There are those outside this community who expect the worst from students who are mostly low-income, mostly black and brown, and many of whom are English language learners. Many of you know better, and spoke up to defend our schools. You have truly taken to heart the point I try to drive home every time I post on this blog: “It’s Up to Us!”

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One Response to Journey of a Superintendent: Nobody is Going to Make Money by Misusing Our Data

  1. Jacob says:

    I have to say that I disagree with you on several fundamental levels. Firstly, you are assuming that simply taking an assumedly harder test automatically disqualifies the district for worst schools, however failure on a test is still marked by failure on a test. However I will grant you the point that the tests are different and so at least a different set of data should be aggregated not thrown out. On that note you make statements of district successes and teacher and student successes which brings me to my second fundamental disagreement. How can you say these things without providing data that states increases in ACT test scores throughout the district. Now this data should be interpreted in a specific way, be sure that natural increases due to exposure to the test is taken out as well as any kind of modification to the score that may occur due to more students taking the exam. When that is presented in a factual manner and shows great gains in student ACT scores then I will concede this point. This still leads me to my third and final point of contention. You say the mission of your district is to prepare students for college and career readiness however a test like the ACT only provides readiness for one of those…ACT. Now taking into account the college retention rates of KCK graduates, and by that I mean retention past freshman year, I would take the liberty in assuming that your district has more students who need career readiness than college readiness. Do you see this as a failure to your students by not properly preparing them? But instead gearing their learning towards an exam that has no real impact on the majority of their lives? You make mention of black and brown and poverty stricken students, however to me, I see simple students. When looking at these students is it not best to do what is best for them? Perhaps sometimes we need to divorce ourselves as educators from them as individuals where we see only those that are successful and consider as a whole what truly needs to be done.

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