Editorial: With scant progress on test results, schools and lawmakers must “act decisively to turn this problem around”

The Seattle Times editorial board weighs in on the latest round of statewide test results. We wrote about the testing earlier, noting scant progress and persistent performance gaps. The ST editorial is pointed.

State and local education officials should temper their smiles over small and spotty progress in this year’s statewide test results. Nearly half of children statewide are still failing the math and English Language Arts exams.

That is unacceptable by any measure.

Significantly – and rightly – the editorial does not fault the tests. The problem is the performance. And the tests are the best way to discover what’s working and what needs improvement. From the editorial:

The Legislature and local school officials must act decisively to turn this problem around.

The goal is to get all Washington young people to graduate from high school and be ready for college or career. They must pass the statewide math and English language arts tests or an approved alternative, earn all the required high school credits and make a plan for after graduation.

The ST writers have some suggestions, including careful investment in early learning, the state Learning Assistance Program, tutoring, AP and IB classes, and more.

In our 2017 report, we recommend several strategies for narrowing the gaps and improving overall academic performance, some of which are also sounded in the editorial. For example,

Closing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for struggling students and those attending low-performing schools is essential to a statewide effort to expand opportunity and shared prosperity. The state should:

  • Improve K-12 Financing: Lawmakers must ensure that state education investments lead to improved student and school performance…

  • 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.

  • Increase Access to Educator Talent: The state should work to increase the supply of excellent teachers and broaden their impact by attracting and retaining more high-caliber candidates, providing incentives for excellent teachers to serve in leadership roles, and expanding their reach to serve more students…

The state’s goal is to increase the percentage of school-ready kindergarteners to 69 percent by 2020. To get there, the State Board of Education advocates for expanding access to high-quality early childhood education. We agree. Today, only 40 percent of the state’s three- and four-year-olds enroll in early learning programs, a rate that puts Washington in the bottom quartile of states.

We agree with the Seattle Times editorial. It’s important that the state continue to monitor academic performance. And it’s important that education funding remains tied to reform efforts designed to improve that performance.