This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
New statewide test scores released this week paint a picture of, at best, stagnation in student achievement.
Performance was up in some subjects, down in others. Seventh- and eighth- graders demonstrated a better grasp of key subjects, but students beneath and above them stumbled. The most immediate concern: high school sophomores, whose scores slipped nearly across the board.
Let the calls for cutting the Class of 2013 a break on graduation requirements begin.
Another huge red flag was the performance turned in by last year’s fifth-graders, who showed some of the biggest losses with drops in every content area.
State schools chief Randy Dorn said the mixed bag may actually be a victory, given all that students have been put through in the last two years. He thinks the lackluster results can be at least partly attributed to budget cutbacks and the introduction of new tests and testing methods.
His prescription for improvement – which curiously could include yet another revision of the state tests – is a bureaucrat’s answer to a reformer’s problem.
If improving student achievement were as easy as getting the state to throw more money at public education and letting students get accustomed to a test, the state would be fighting only a one- or two-year blip.
Instead, Washington “has demonstrated relatively meager improved student outcomes overall and by subgroup since 2003,” as one reviewer of the state’s recent Race to the Top application put it.
The same reviewer found that “the state’s analysis of the underlying reasons for these disappointing student outcomes, despite a decade of previous education reforms, is sparse and weak.” That’s one of the judgments that put Washington 32nd out of 36 applicants for Race to the Top federal grants.
What Dorn, Gov. Chris Gregoire and many lawmakers don’t want to admit is that there’s more to the flagging progress of student achievement than funding cuts and a switch in testing regimens.
Also to blame is Washington’s resistance to rigorous accountability for schools and educators.
When the feds challenged this state to get serious about retooling schools, the state did it – according to Dorn and Gregoire – “the Washington way.”
Under “the Washington way,” teachers and principals are not evaluated using student performance, weak teachers keep teaching and innovation in the form of charter schools is outlawed.
And student progress does nothing more than hold its own. Some testimonial for this state’s vision of education “reform.”