Gaps widen in latest tests of Washington students’ academic performance

Averages can be tricky. They usually are. Overall, Washington students performed pretty much as they did last year on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests. But the tests highlighted an enduring problem: The “opportunity gap.”

Seattle Times reporter Hannah Furfaro writes,

New national test scores in math and reading are out, and while averages across Washington have largely flatlined, the gap between the state’s high-flyers and lowest performers continues to grow.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal comments on the importance of the assessments and shares his concern with the performance gap.

Being the only test taken by students across the nation, it’s the only one where a valid comparison between states can be drawn. In the 2017 NAEP cycle, Washington students outperformed their peers, even ranking within the top 10 for 8th grade math and English language arts.

In the 2019 assessment, most states saw a slight dip in average scores from 2017, including Washington.

“I always turn to NAEP results to make comparisons between the academic performance of our students and their peers nationwide,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Regarding the gap:

Washington’s students are top performers nationally when it comes to 8th grade students who are not experiencing poverty. When comparing Washington’s students experiencing poverty to students experiencing poverty across the nation, our students perform near the average.

“Our students face systemic barriers to their success related to income and poverty,” Reykdal said. “This is evidenced by the fact that our wealthier students are ahead of their peers nationally, while our students experiencing poverty are near the national average.”

The ST story adds,

Washington was one of 31 states where eighth grade reading scores fell, suggesting the scores may be tied to systematic inequities and a lack of innovation, said Pedro Noguera, professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles. He also said he is working as a consultant on a Washington state school equity commission. “Those disparities are again a reflection of inequity broadly,” he said. “Unless you do something to compensate for those disadvantages, they are likely to get worse.”

The scores, as the experts point out, suggest more questions than solutions, and are useful in prompting additional investigation. Furfaro reports,

Why the gap in math scores widens between fourth and eighth grade is also unclear, Reykdal said. Reykdal also said he was frustrated to see the state’s reading scores, which hint that efforts launched several years ago to improve literacy, such as enrolling more children in preschool, aren’t having the desired effect. “It’s possible the places getting early literacy support are overrepresented in wealthier communities,” he said.

Others say they expect Washington’s scores may improve in the years to come, given state lawmakers’ recent decision to pour nearly $1 billion into the state’s public school system…

NAEP results are used in compiling our Opportunity Washington Scorecard.