Most 4th-Graders in Washington Aren't Proficient Readers. Seriously.

By Matt Halvorson

That's right. Sixty percent of 4th-graders in Washington State do not meet the national standard for proficiency.

And it gets worse.

Before we get to the numbers, here's the foundation of what we're talking about (courtesy of

"Proficiency means working, in-depth knowledge of a subject. Setting the academic bar at proficiency ensures students are on track for college or a career after graduation.
" determines the adequacy of each state’s reading and math proficiency requirements. It does so by comparing the percent of students deemed proficient on state tests in 2013 versus the percent deemed proficient on tests administered that year by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
"[The] NAEP is considered the gold standard of measuring academic proficiency. A large gap in results indicates that a state needs to set the academic bar higher for its students."

Here's what that gap looks like in Washington State for 4th-grade reading proficiency (again from

Looking at all those numbers, my brain tries to take me in a lot of different directions at once. I'll get to a couple of those paths in a few lines. But first, here's how is looking at these figures:

"A proficiency cut score is an actual number (score) on an assessment that draws the line determining where a student is proficient. States use different tests and set different proficiency cut scores to determine the proficiency level for knowledge and skill mastery. When proficiency cut scores are set too low, it conveys a false sense of student achievement."

In other words, we're telling some of our kids (not to mention their parents, their teachers and ourselves) that they're ready for college when they're really not. And we're not setting a bar for any of our kids that's in line with national expectations.

That's not good. But it's good to know that it's happening. Seems like a good thing to speak up about.

But mostly, I look at all those numbers, and I can't help feeling like by focusing on the proficiency gap, we're just pointing out a particularly wet spot in a state that's completely under water. Look at those numbers!

Only 40 percent of 4th graders in Washington can read well enough to be considered proficient by national standards. Three out of five 4th-graders aren't proficient readers. What?

Only 25 percent of black 4th-graders and 17 percent of Latino 4th-graders are proficient readers.

That's so terrible! A full 83 percent of Latino 4th-graders can't read up to standard, and 75 percent of African-American 4th-graders are in the same boat.

White 4th-graders, on the other hand, are 49-percent proficient. Which is way better, and also still so terrible. More than half of white 4th-graders in progressive Washington State have not been taught to read as well as we believe they deserve.

Only 23 percent of 4th-graders whose families qualify as "low-income" have been taught to read to the national standard. How is public education the great equalizer if the wealthier among us are paying for better schools and better neighborhoods?

Not only can we not rely on our state government to fix this problem, they are (at best) years away from addressing it. We are (at best) a few years away from fully funding our public schools, and then it will be years from there before the data bears out the truth that money makes a difference, but it isn't everything.

Not only can we not rely on our teachers union to fix this problem, the WEA is actively clinging to this miserable status quo, fighting tooth and nail against racially conscious innovation in such forms as Teach For America and the establishment of a charter school network. And speaking of money, the WEA won't talk about anything but money until our schools are fully funded, so until we take that escape hatch away from them, they'll continue to use it.

We are not teaching our kids in this state.

Why are we doing anything but changing?