Seattle Times takes closer look at Common Core test scores; Washington students perform better than peers in 14 other states

The Seattle Times examines the data from last year’s Smarter Balanced assessments and reports some good news

In nearly all grade levels, Washington students’ performance on the new Common Core-based tests, called Smarter Balanced, surpassed their peers in the 14 other states that take those exams.

We first reported on the tests in August, writing, 

The results this year are encouraging evidence that the commitment to standards and assessments is paying dividends. We look forward to continued progress in the coming years.

Congratulations to the Times for adding value to the initial reports, while providing a caution.

Officials with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction compiled the data at the request of The Seattle Times, and with the exception of Montana and Oregon, the results include only students who took the tests. (In those two states, students who didn’t take the exams were given zero scores, which lowers their passage rates.) 

But Washington officials were reluctant to compare this state’s performance to others, warning there are many reasons why one state may score higher than another.

The results for younger students, the group of Washington students that did best, may be more relevant because, as Times reporter Neal Morton writes, the stakes were low for the upper grades.

Scores for 11th-grade students in Washington, however, ranked near or at the bottom of the 15 states, although high school juniors here might not have been motivated to do well because they don’t have to pass both tests in order to graduate until next year.

And while the tests show improvement, they also confirm performance falls well below what’s required.

For as well as Washington appeared to do relative to other states, only about 50-60 percent of students are passing the Smarter Balanced tests in most grades.

“We are pleased with the success so far of our students (but) I would never want to rest on these laurels,” said Nathan Olson, a spokesman for the superintendent’s office.

The Times editorial board adds additional context. 

When the results on the new state tests based on the national Common Core education standards came out in August, they showed student improvement in all grades and subjects. 

But the passing rates weren’t all that impressive. About half the kids in every grade — except for high school — met or exceeded the state standard on the tests in 2016.

The editorial notes,

On average, Washington kids in grades three through six and eight did better on the Smarter Balanced math test than students in 14 other states where the same test was administered, according to data compiled by Washington state education officials. On the English test, only kids in New Hampshire passed in greater numbers than Washington kids in grades three through eight.

We agree with the editorial conclusion:

There’s also plenty of work left to be done to close the achievement gap between Washington children from different ethnic and economic groups. But for today, let’s celebrate this achievement with Washington students and their teachers.

Learn more about our goals for education and how we measure progress at the Opportunity Washington Scorecard.