Support The Wire

New report urges for more efforts to close performance gaps for Washington students

A new legislative report from the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) shows mixed results on progress toward the state’s 10-year goal to close performance gaps among subgroups of students. The report comes six months after the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature finally complied with its constitutional obligation to fund k-12 public schools.

According to the report, there’s been some progress made toward the state’s goals for student outcomes, overall. But the outcomes aren’t on-track to meet the 10-year goal, and performance gaps persist among subgroups based on race, income, and other characteristics.

“While it is appropriate to acknowledge the incremental successes we have experienced, it is also important not to lose a sense of urgency about the size and scope of our achievement and opportunity gaps, which present as early as age five, and persist in the data to age 25 and beyond,” the Board wrote. “We can and must do better for Washington’s children.”

In 2017, Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction established a “90 percent minimum proficiency rate in English language arts and math” on statewide assessments for all Washington students within 10 years. To reach that goal would require that the subgroups of students starting the furthest behind make the most progress each year.

ESSA graph

To track progress, the report details “statewide indicators of educational system health” — stats like graduation rates and the percentage of Washington students who met certain assessment standards.

A couple examples of incremental, but positive progress in the report: graduation rates improved in 75 percent of diploma-granting districts, and an increasing number of pre-k children enrolled in early childhood education thanks to the expansion of slots in Washington’s Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.

Washington made some progress on most indicators — at least in the “All Students” category — and, though progress isn’t meeting the state’s annual targets in any category, it’s comparable to similar states’ progress on half of the indicators.

But when the data was separated by student subgroup, outcomes generally showed that the system was more effective for white, middle/upper class students than students of color, from low-income households, with a disability, or from homes that speak a language other than English.

For example, while overall performance on a Kindergarten Readiness assessment improved by 2.5 percent for “All Students,” performance on the same indicator declined for Native American and Pacific Islander children by almost twice as much. The report lists several other, similar examples that persist from pre-k through graduation.

“In the fall 2018, approximately 53 percent of White kindergartners were kindergarten-ready but only 31 percent of Hispanic kindergartners were kindergarten-ready, a performance gap of 22 percentage points at the time of transitioning into the K–12 education system,” states one example in the report.

“On the high school graduation measure, approximately 82 percent of White students graduate in four years but only 60 percent of Native American students graduate from high school in four years, a performance gap of 22 percentage points,” states another.

The Board recommended several evidence-based reforms for the legislature to consider, in line with SBE’s longer-term strategic plan, which include the following suggestions:

  • Expanding access to early childhood education programs.
  • “Expanding the availability of graduation specialists and career specialists in high school.”
  • “Developing a statewide framework for school safety and mental health”
  • “Eliminating the proficiency requirement on assessments to earn a diploma” — assuming certain other standards are maintained.
  • Giving students credit for “competencies acquired in the workplace, through volunteer work, or other extracurricular activities.”
  • Changing “the prototypical school funding model” to take into consideration specific student-to-mental health professional ratios and smaller class sizes.
  • Ramping up efforts to recruit, retain, and train teachers, staff, and administrators who reflect the schools and communities they serve.
  • Changing “the capital funding threshold to require a simple majority for passage of bonds.”

As for the education funding provided and reforms made in the last two sessions, the report says the impacts may take awhile to make a meaningful difference in student outcomes.

“Evidence of the system improvement will not be borne out in educational
outcomes for years because institutional change requires time,” the Board wrote.

For the board’s full list of exact recommendations, see this page on the Board’s website.

Your support matters.

Public service journalism is important today as ever. If you get something from our coverage, please consider making a donation to support our work. Thanks for reading our stuff.