Washington Roundtable releases report outlining strategies for improving low-performing schools

The Washington Roundtable today released a report that provides useful guidance to policymakers committed to expanding opportunities for all students in Washington. Working with key partners in education policy, the Roundtable both sends an alarm on an under-discussed topic in public education and provides a strategy for improving outcomes. As the Roundtable’s press release states, 

More than one-third of Washington school districts have one or more low-performing schools. Academic performance and graduation rates for students who attend those schools significantly trail those of students statewide. And, challenges extend beyond those schools, with approximately 200,000 3rd through 8th graders (nearly half the student population) across Washington scoring below proficient (or below standard) on statewide assessments.

Those are among the key findings of a new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning, done in collaboration with Education First and Public Impact. The report, “Creating Great Schools for Washington Students” examines the characteristics of Washington’s low-performing schools and struggling students. It also identifies best practices and recommends distinct, actionable strategies for raising student achievement. The report and an extended research presentation are available at waroundtable.com.

Key Findings:

  • Washington state has identified 255 low-performing schools, including at least one in more than a third of its school districts. Approximately 100,000 of the state’s 1 million public school students attend these schools.
  • Performance of 3rd through 8th graders at low-performing schools on the Smarter Balanced assessments – administered annually in math and English language arts – trails the statewide average by 16 percentage points in reading and 17 points in math.
  • The five-year graduation rate at low-performing schools trails the state average by 29 points.
  • Results of efforts to improve low-performing schools in Washington are mixed. Since the 2012-13 school year, 57 schools improved enough to move out of Priority or Focus School status (the two categories of low-performing schools identified by the state). However, over that same time period, the total number of schools designated as low-performing has increased, and performance in 17 schools declined.

And here’s how things can be changed for the better.

The report identifies four steps to meaningful improvement in Washington state:

1. Improve K-12 Financing: The state should allocate funds based on student need. A student-based budgeting system would improve equity and outcomes, and provide sustained resources for schools with greater concentrations of struggling students.

2. Enhance Supports and Accountability: The state must be able to identify low-performing schools and struggling students, and use a robust accountability system to target resources. Policymakers should strengthen support and intervention strategies, measure and report on progress, and set clear timelines for performance improvement with concrete consequences.

3. Increase Access to Educator Talent: Policymakers should take steps to grow the pipeline of great teachers and leaders for low-performing schools and struggling students.

4. Close Achievement Gaps Early: The state should continue to make targeted investments to expand early learning options for low-income children.

As the Roundtable points out, money matters, as does how it’s spent and the support systems put in place. This report is an excellent contribution to our state’s education policy formation. We commend it to you.