Assessing progress in educational outcomes, funding: Maintaining standards and improving performance.

As we reported on our Opportunity Scorecard, Washington shows mixed results in education performance, our “Achieve” priority. 

Our state ranks 18th based on an Achieve (education) score of 82. The state performs well in 4th grade reading, 8th grade math, and associate’s degrees awarded. However, the high school graduation rate is well below the median (ranking 40th in the nation). The state also ranks among the bottom half of all states in bachelor’s and advanced degree production.

In a recent update, we showed slight improvement in the high school graduation rate, as did most states. The New York Times reports concern that the national improvement is associated with declining standards. They peg their story on the experience of Berea High School in South Carolina.

According to college entrance exams administered to every 11th grader in the state last spring, only one in 10 Berea students were ready for college-level work in reading, and about one in 14 were ready for entry-level college math. And on a separate test of skills needed to succeed in most jobs, little more than half of the studentsdemonstrated that they could handle the math they would need.

It is a pattern repeated in other school districts across the state and country — urban, suburban and rural — where the number of students earning high school diplomas has risen to historic peaks, yet measures of academic readiness for college or jobs are much lower. This has led educators to question the real value of a high school diploma and whether graduation requirements are too easy.

We believe that it’s important to improve the graduation rate by improving academic performance and maintaining high standards. The Seattle Times editorial board says the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, provides another opportunity to get the balance right.

 The new law gives states more flexibility in assessing student achievement beyond just test scores. That means state leaders must set clear goals for schools to show improvement in areas such as high graduation rates, college and career readiness, proficiency in core subjects and closing the achievement gap between different populations of students.

And, alluding to the coming debates on school funding, the editorial says,

Gov. Jay Inslee refers to education spending as an investment, but he and other state officials must demonstrate to taxpayers that the investments are made in a way that actually improves results.

That’s right. And it’s important to recognize that Washington is among the top states for increasing education funding. Further improvement in funding will, as The News Tribune editorializes, include consideration of levy reform. However the Legislature addresses education, it’s vital that the focus remain on improved academic achievement without compromising the standards that assure students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in career and college.