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More than 75% of eighth graders in Kansas and Missouri weren’t proficient in math in 2022

Students inside an elementary school classroom sit with their back to the camera. A teacher sits at the head of the class talking to them.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3

In the first full year of the pandemic, both states saw drops in reading and math proficiency. But educators hope that higher levels of school funding in Kansas should help reverse the trend.

More than 75% of eighth grade students in Kansas and Missouri weren’t proficient in math in 2022, according to the latest Kids Count Data Book.

The annual child wellness report from the Anne E. Casey Foundation ranks Kansas at 26th in the nation for education and Missouri at 22nd. Kansas also ranks 28th in reading proficiency for fourth graders and 34th in math proficiency for eighth graders, according to Kansas Action for Children.

Ryan Reza, data and policy analyst for Kansas Action for Children, said these are important indications of how ready students are for the rest of their education.

“These indicators are sounding the alarm for our educational systems to get these students caught up," he said. "It's not too late if they're not proficient at these grades.”

In 2022, 77% of eighth graders in Kansas were not proficient in math, a 10% increase from 2019. Fourth graders not proficient in reading rose from 66% in 2019 to 69% in 2022. Those increases are slightly higher than the national average, Reza said.

In Missouri, 76% of eighth graders were not proficient in math and 70% of fourth graders were not proficient in reading.

If fourth graders are struggling with a subject matter now, Reza said it will impact the rest of their academic career — that’s why it’s important to analyze this data early and get students caught quickly.

Reza said the data indicates that fourth graders may have adapted better to online learning, but it may not be clear why for years to come.

“With eighth graders specifically, you're isolated from your peers and your teachers. You are having to learn pretty complex themes and ideas and subject matter in eighth grade,” Reza said. “An online learning environment would be much more detrimental to those factors.”

Members of the Local Investment Commission (LINC) in Kansas City said students were expected to learn during difficult conditions during the pandemic, leading to worse academic outcomes. The nonprofit provided families with utility and food assistance to keep homes stable as families faced economic hardship.

Janet Miles-Bartee, executive vice president of LINC, said students in the metro still have some of those same needs.

“Even though they're back in school… families suffered a lot during the pandemic,” Miles-Bartee said. “We're having to do some of those same supports around the family… making sure that the family as a whole has what it needs so that children are able to go to school, concentrate and learn.”

Reza said the pandemic aggravated existing problems with education in Kansas.

This school year marked the first time the K-12 education system in Kansas has been funded at a constitutional level since 2008. In 2018, Kansas lawmakers approved a funding increase for schools over multiple years.

Jessica Herrera Russell, senior communications manager at KAC, said students are still recovering from the lack of funding. Now that schools have more funding, she hopes to see these math and reading trends reverse.

With more funding, she said schools can hire more teachers and decrease the student-to-teacher ratio.

“Then teachers have more opportunities to get that one-on-one instruction that is really needed for these students at this time," she said. “If they're not doing great in the first few months in algebra, they're not going to get better, because they never learned the foundational learning that they really needed to apply for the rest of the year."

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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