Ready Washington Launches Student Voices Contest

For students in grades 3-8 and high school, March marked the beginning of the Smarter Balanced testing window. Spring 2015 marked the first year Smarter Balanced assessments were administered, and student participation was mixed: For elementary and middle schools, participation rates were at 95 percent across grades 3-8, but high school participation rates were low, as more than 50 percent of 11th graders refused to take the math and English language arts exams.

In an effort to communicate with students about the importance of taking these assessments, the Ready Washington coalition launched a student voices project called ‘Opt In for Student Success.’ The project encourages students to use their voice to talk about the importance of a high-quality education, the value of assessments and being prepared for college, work and life.

Between now and April 15, Ready Washington is accepting video submissions from high school students around the state. From those submissions, 10 winners will be chosen to each receive a $500 scholarship, and a $100 Visa gift card will be awarded to their favorite educator. Full details are available by clicking here. If you know of any high school students who believe in the value of standards and assessments, encourage them to submit a short video for a chance to win $500.

The video submissions are already rolling in. Here are a couple examples of high school students who are ‘Opting In for a Better Education’:

State Board of Education Launches the 95/10 Challenge

The spring testing window for students in Washington state’s public schools is underway, which means year two of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA). Between now and June, students in grades 3-8, 10, and 11 will take these exams, which include testing in both English Language Arts and Mathematics.  Assessment results will give students – as well as their families and their schools – insight into where they stand on the path to career- and college-readiness.

Last year saw strong participation on the SBA from students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10, but more than half of Washington’s 11th graders refused to take the test.  Looking to improve upon that this year, the Washington State Board of Education (SBE) has issued the  95/10 Percent Challenge, endorsing two goals: All schools meet the 95 percent test participation requirement established under federal law.  And, Washington reduces the number of students requiring postsecondary remedial coursework by 10 percent.

In setting the goals, the SBE clearly lays out the value of the Smarter Balanced assessments, particularly for high school students:

“Although full participation is important to ensure federal compliance, the overriding consideration is the ability to monitor and support the progress of all students, particularly those not on track for a career and college-ready diploma.

“In that spirit, the Smarter Balanced assessment serves multiple purposes. In addition to setting a career- and college-ready standard for high school achievement, and informing senior year course-taking choices, this assessment can also save students time and money for college placement. For the first time ever, students who pass can skip costly and time-consuming remedial coursework at the post-secondary level.”

The SBE goes on to outline the value of the assessments in identifying achievement gaps:

“The Smarter Balanced assessment helps us understand the size of the gaps we face and help schools identify individual students who are in need of extra help. But widespread assessment refusals obscure those gaps, and eliminate a tool for parents and teachers to identify students in need of extra help. All students and their parents have a right to know whether they are ready for college-level work.”

SBE chair Isabel Muñoz-Colón sums up the benefits of the assessments nicely, saying in a statement:

“Smarter Balanced assessments help Washington students in two ways. For students who are struggling, the assessment can be used by educators and other stakeholders to identify who needs help and target resources to those students and their families. Students achieving a level 3 or 4 on the assessment can be placed directly into credit-bearing courses at Washington colleges and universities. We now have a system where the pathway to college and career, though not perfect, is much clearer.”

The Roundtable has long supported college- and career-ready learning standards and aligned assessments in K-12 education, and we were encouraged by last year’s Smarter Balanced results. Driving increased student participation in the assessments, particularly among our high school students, is important to improving education outcomes for all Washington students.

New 50-State Report Compares College and Career Readiness

Too few U.S. high school graduates are academically prepared.

That’s the conclusion from a report released this week by Achieve, a national, independent education reform group. The study compares all 50 states and their adoption of college- and career-ready policies based on each state’s standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems.

“Achieve has long advocated the adoption of college- and career-ready policies at the state level,” said Michael Cohen, President of Achieve. “As a decade’s worth of our Closing the Expectations Gap reports have shown, many states have taken important steps to get higher standards and better assessments on the books. We thought it was time to start taking a close look at the data states are reporting about student outcomes to better understand the impact of these CCR policies.”

The profile on Washington state highlights some concerns we have about the skills gap and the need to better prepare Washington students for college and career. For example, while the Achieve report shows that 51% of Washington jobs require a bachelor’s degree, just 21% of Washington adults (25+) hold such a degree. This graph illustrates the gap between supply and demand for Washington jobs:

WA Supply v Demand

These numbers aren’t surprising. As highlighted in the latest release of the Benchmarks for a Better Washington, our state ranks just 39th in the nation in bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (4.6 degrees per 1,000 residents in 2013).  And, in a 2013 report for the Roundtable, “Great Jobs Within Our Reach,” the Boston Consulting Group found that 25,000 jobs had gone unfilled because of the skills gap. That number was projected to grow to 50,000 by next year.

Increasing postsecondary attainment will be a critical step toward shrinking the skills gap and ensuring Washington kids are ready for great opportunities in our state. We’ll be taking a deeper look at these issues in the months ahead.


Washington Legislature Acts to Save Public Charter Schools

The Washington Legislature came together last week in bipartisan fashion to pass a bill to save public charter schools. We’re thankful to legislators in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle for working together to pass a long-term solution for these schools. This fix will allow for the continued operation of eight charter schools that have already demonstrated impressive student achievement gains.  It will also allow for the expansion to 40 total public charter schools in the coming years.  This will have positive implications not just for the current 1,100 public charter school students in our state, but for countless Washington families in the future.

The Spokesman Review in Spokane, home to two public charter schools, wrote in an editorial:

“[The charter school fix is] a relief to the staff, students and their parents at the Spokane charter schools, which appear to be living up to their promise of providing substantive, engaging alternatives to traditional instruction.”

The measure is now on the desk of Governor Jay Inslee.  The Seattle Times Editorial Board urges him to act quickly:

“Gov. Jay Inslee should — without delay — sign ESSB 6194, a remedy for the concerns of the state Supreme Court, which threw out the voter-approved charter-school law in September. That ruling plunged the schools serving 1,100 students in the Seattle, Highline, Kent, Tacoma and Spokane school districts into disarray.”

The Yakima Herald weighs in as well, saying:

“The issue has hung in abeyance long enough, and Inslee should sign the bill and let the schools go about educating their 1,100 students.”

We applaud the Legislature for finding a solution that works. Act Now for Washington Students is also encouraging voters to thank lawmakers for their great work on this bill and show their support to Gov. Inslee as well. The coalition offers an opportunity for you to voice your support here.