Seattle Times editorial urges participation in Smarter Balanced testing; city leaders seek to close education achievement gap

The Seattle Times editorial board makes a strong case for increasing participation in the Smarter Balanced tests. The editorial notes that federal law requires a 95 percent participation rate or the district risks losing funding and awards. More important:

The Smarter Balanced testing reflects the new national Common Core standards. For the first time, Washington will soon have data to compare how its students are performing with other participating states. Measuring academic progress ensures that limited funding is targeted to struggling students while they are still in school.

The editorial urges the district to support the state Board of Education’s two goals:

• All schools will meet the 95 percent participation requirement.

• The state will reduce the number of students needing remedial coursework in college by 10 percent.

Unfortunately,

In a political statement, in part against overtesting and the Smarter Balanced assessment itself, the Seattle Public Schools Board has introduced a resolution asking the state to create an alternative assessment system and reaffirm opt-out rights for students in Washington’s largest district.

Superintendent Larry Nyland warned last week that finding an alternative testing framework is possible, but the resolution also implies that “we’re encouraging parents to opt out.” That works against the federal law’s 95 percent participation requirement and irresponsibly invites adverse financial consequences.

That’s the wrong message. As the editorial concludes, the school board should “tread carefully.”

Meanwhile, the Seattle Mayor’s Education Summit kicked off with an assessment of the district’s achievement gaps, as reported by Paige Cornwall in the Seattle Times.

Mayor Ed Murray offered stark statistics at the start of his Education Summit:

In Seattle Public Schools, students of color met third-grade reading standards at a rate 30 percent lower than their white classmates. They graduate at a rate 24  percent lower than white students. And a third of Seattle students of color attend a high-poverty school, while a third of white Seattle students attend a private school.

In our foundation report, we emphasized the importance of closing the achievement gap to increase opportunities for all students. 

Washington must also continue to make gains in student achievement by closing achievement gaps between groups of students and raising the high school graduation rate. These efforts will ensure every student is prepared for life-long career success in a dynamic economy, capable of fully realizing the abundant opportunities for rewarding civic, community, and workplace achievement.

We’re delighted to be able to cite one example of private sector leadership in education, one described in a Seattle Times op-ed by Seattle Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln. It’s the Western Stands for Washington Campaign, which funds scholarships, labs, equipment and more at Western Washington University. 

Thanks to 21,700 generous donors, Western’s largest-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign passed its $60 million goal seven months before schedule and is now more than $62 million. With more than 100 new endowments and a doubling of the amount of funding for scholarships, the campaign will benefit Western students — and our state — for generations.

Successful partnerships like these can make a critical difference. 

We’ll close this post with a link to a Brookings Institution analysis that attempts to provide some perspective on last week’s report on graduating seniors’ lack of college skills. Analyst Brad Hershbein examines how changes in the composition of the tested population influence overall performance. The achievement gap in subgroups, then, is implicated in the apparent decline. One excerpt from his brief post:

What about the recent dip from 2013? This cannot be the result of racial composition changes, since there is a general fall in scores across racial categories. But we should not rule out other compositional explanations: for example, increased high school graduation rates, especially for Blacks and Hispanics. Good news, of course (though as others have noted, some of these gains may have come from growth in alternative programs that may not be as academically rigorous).

More students in high school means more students taking the NAEP exam in 12th grade.

As we’ve said before, the key is increasing high school graduation rates while maintaining, if not increasing, academic standards and student performance. It can and must be done. The efforts here to increase learning opportunities, close achievement gaps, and participate in Smarter Balanced testing are evidence that our public and private sector leaders are stepping up to the challenge.