Marking progress in early learning, high school graduation

The Seattle Times reports today on successes in the state’s early learning program.

When four-year-olds in the state’s low-income preschool program were evaluated in the fall of 2014, only 30 percent had early literacy skills (like knowing the alphabet) showing they were ready for kindergarten.

By the end of their preschool year, 88 percent had those skills, according to a new report from the state’s Department of Early Learning.

There’s more. 

Kids in the state preschool program made even greater strides in developing social and emotional skills. Only 39 percent were deemed ready in that area when they started preschool  in the fall. By the spring, 92 percent had those skills…

In our foundation report, we emphasized the importance of early learning.

Priority I.D: Focus early learning assistance on children most at risk of entering kindergarten unprepared.

Why This Matters: With job and life opportunities in the 21st century so directly tied to education levels, it is increasingly important that all students enter the K-12 system prepared to learn and succeed…

Economists Rob Grunewald and Art Rolnick conclude that investing in early childhood development programs “makes sense…because the returns are large, reliable and reaped by both the individuals involved and the general public.” They advise that programs should “be focused on those children at highest risk for developmental deficits. Conditions that indicate whether a child is at risk include low family income, violence or neglect in the home, low parent-education levels, low birth weight and parent chemical addiction.”

That’s the “being ready for school” part. We also want to take a minute to acknowledge some success at the “getting out of high school with skills” part of the story. Another report in the Seattle Times calls attention to a program in King County to improve high school graduation rates. There are still problems, as the report notes, but it’s good to recognize progress is being made.

In 2015, the graduation rates for seven school districts in South Seattle and South King County reached or surpassed 70 percent for the first time, but significant gaps between racial groups still persist, and students’ academic performance overall was mixed.

The seven districts are part of the Road Map Project, a regional effort to double the number of students who either go to college or earn a career credential.

…The 2015 report, released Wednesday, showed that the overall on-time graduation rate in the Road Map region was 77 percent last year, an increase from 73 percent in 2013 and 75 percent in 2014. The region’s five-year graduation rate rose to 81 percent in 2014, from 76 percent in 2010.

Along with higher graduation rates, other improvements in 2015 included an increase in students taking college-ready courses and a decline in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

As we pointed out in the latest update to the Opportunity Washington Scorecard, improving high school graduation rates is a top priority for Washingtonians, and a good measure of school performance.

According to a recent survey,* 94 percent of Washingtonians believe it is very important or important to raise the high school graduation rate, which is currently 78 percent. Survey respondents were clear they don’t want to do it by lowering standards. Rather, a significant majority (85 percent) want to see a rise in student achievement.

It’s great to see improvements at both ends of the education spectrum.