When progress isn’t enough: Washington lags in school readiness; also behind peer states in math and English performance

Yesterday, we were happy to note Washington’s progress on several higher education metrics. But we must also acknowledge some lingering K-12 shortcomings, as reported in today’s Seattle Times. 

Yet below that surface, the board’s report paints a dismal picture.  

Washington lags comparable states in the number of children who start kindergarten ready to learn… 

Its low-income fourth- and eighth-graders also score lower in math and English than their peers in eight other states similarly driven by entrepreneurialism, innovation, globalism and information technology. Those states are Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.

Against that crowd, Washington also fared poorly in high-school graduation rates.

The Times refers to a new report from the State Board of Education, “Statewide Indicators of Education System Health.” Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary (there’s a wealth of data in the report for the interested education analyst/advocate).

The major conclusion of this report is a good news, bad news message. While Washington is improving on most key performance indicators, the rate of improvement is not enough to achieve the goals established. It is also worth noting that gaps in performance remain a persistent problem.

As you will see, gaps are present early in our kindergarten readiness data, and persist all the way through to our post-secondary degree attainment data. In some cases, our gaps are getting wider over time, and in some cases, the gaps are noticeably wider than what we observe in other states. While it is appropriate to acknowledge the incremental successes we have experienced, it is also important to retain our sense of urgency about the size and scope of our achievement and opportunity gaps, which present as early as age five, and persist in the data to age 25 and beyond. We can and must do better.

The conclusion won’t surprise those of you who have followed the Opportunity Washington Scorecard, which finds Washington posting a middling record on key “Achieve” measures, our education priority.

Seattle Times reporter Claudia Rowe writes,

Next month lawmakers are expected to begin hammering out an answer to the long-looming McCleary case, which found that Washington chronically underfunds public education.

“People tend to think of us as a high-performing state,” [SBE executive director Ben] Rarick said. “But when you look at kids in poverty, we’re not particularly distinguished.”

We agree with the SBE: We can and must do better.