Test results show Washington is making 'little progress' toward closing gaps

The results of last spring’s Smarter Balanced tests are in, and Washington State’s students scored almost exactly the same as they had the year before on the standardized math and language arts tests.

Paige Cornwell dug into the uninspiring results recently for the Seattle Times. The only areas of statewide improvement over the previous year were sixth- and seventh-grade math, and seventh grade reading, which had the largest gain at 1.6 percent.

That’s it.

“What jumps out are the persistent achievement gaps and the fact that little progress is being made,” state superintendent Chris Reykdal said, “and it’s not enough.”


Whoa. For once Chris Reykdal and I are on exactly the same page!

I agree, Chris. What jumps out when you take a look at our test scores are the persistent achievement gaps. Just like last year. And the years and years before that.

So, we’re all aware that “little progress is being made,” and that, as Reykdal said, “it’s not enough.”

Now, on the one hand, one year isn’t much time, so I’m not surprised we’ve made “little progress” since 2016.

On the other hand, not being surprised isn’t the same as being okay with what’s happening. Our opportunity and achievement gaps have been discussed at length, and Reykdal himself has made some pretty weighty promises about closing those gaps.

He wrote at some length on the OSPI website about the opportunity gap, for instance, and while he seems to see the solutions as being almost purely financial, he otherwise demonstrates a pretty well-rounded understanding of the issue and its roots.

So, knowing what he knows, I expect more urgency from our superintendent. At some point, I expect some significant movement. Some big, potentially unpopular steps.

Because why could we possibly expect things to have changed since last year when we haven’t done anything differently?

How much effort over the past year has been put into changing the systems that created our gaps? These gaps aren’t going to close themselves just because we point them out. If little has been done, it’s pretty logical to expect little change in results.

This would be purely business as usual except that, as Cornwell said, “Washington’s ESSA plan includes a goal that students statewide, and in each subgroup — such as racial groups, low-income students or students in special education — reach a proficiency rate of 90 percent by the 2026-27 school year.”

Using test scores from the past three years, the state has created a baseline from which to measure progress toward its goals. So, for example, third-graders passed the reading test at a rate of 53 percent over the past three years. To get to 90 percent in 10 years, third-grade reading scores will need to improve 3.7 percent per year. Black students’ scores would need to improve as a group by more than 5 percent each year.

This is a good reminder for our education leaders that we can’t expect massive progress toward closing the opportunity and achievement gaps based on the force of their will alone. The gaps aren’t going to close just because someone wants them to. We’re actually going to have to do things differently, and we’re going to have to do different things.

Our kids can’t afford even one more year of “little progress” and little change.