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New Washington Kids for Washington Jobs Report: Creating Great Schools for Washington Kids

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Research Study Examines Characteristics of State’s Low-Performing Schools and Struggling Students; Identifies Steps to Meaningful Improvement

SEATTLE – January 11, 2017 – More than one-third of Washington school districts have one or more low-performing schools. Academic performance and graduation rates for students who attend those schools significantly trail those of students statewide. And, challenges extend beyond those schools, with approximately 200,000 3rd through 8th graders (nearly half the student population) across Washington scoring below proficient (or below standard) on statewide assessments.

Those are among the key findings of a new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning, done in collaboration with Education First and Public Impact. The report, “Creating Great Schools for Washington Students” examines the characteristics of Washington’s low-performing schools and struggling students. It also identifies best practices and recommends distinct, actionable strategies for raising student achievement. The report and an extended research presentation are available at

Key Findings:

• Washington state has identified 255 low-performing schools, including at least one in more than a third of its school districts. Approximately 100,000 of the state’s 1 million public school students attend these schools.

• Performance of 3rd through 8th graders at low-performing schools on the Smarter Balanced assessments – administered annually in math and English language arts – trails the statewide average by 16 percentage points in reading and 17 points in math.

• The five-year graduation rate at low-performing schools trails the state average by 29 points.

• Results of efforts to improve low-performing schools in Washington are mixed. Since the 2012-13 school year, 57 schools improved enough to move out of Priority or Focus School status (the two categories of low-performing schools identified by the state). However, over that same time period, the total number of schools designated as low-performing has increased, and performance in 17 schools declined.

“The same schools often languish among the state’s bottom performers year after year,” said Jennifer Vranek, founder of Education First, a national education policy and strategy firm that partnered to conduct the research. “Raising student achievement and preparing our own students for great opportunities requires us to improve outcomes at these schools and for struggling students statewide.”

According to the study, the challenges of low academic performance extend well beyond schools identified as low-performing. Nearly half of 3rd through 8th graders who took the Smarter Balanced assessment at all Washington schools in 2015 scored below proficient (or below standard). Approximately 200,000 students did not meet standard in English language arts, and more than 225,000 were below proficient in math. Of those, about 100,000 students scored Level 1 (the lowest level).

“We’ve seen great progress in Washington’s schools in recent years. Graduation rates are rising and more students are achieving at higher levels. However, clearly, significant numbers of students are struggling,” said Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable.

“There will be 740,000 job openings in our state in the next five years. Most will require a postsecondary credential or college experience. We need a concentrated statewide plan to get our students ready, including strategies and targeted supports to help struggling students and turn around low-performing schools,” Mullin said.

“The common thread in successful efforts to raise academic achievement across the nation is the decision to put kids first, support and expand the reach of excellent teachers, measure performance, and provide support for students who need it most,” said Bryan Hassel, co-director of Public Impact, a national education research and consulting firm that partnered on development of this report.

The report identifies four steps to meaningful improvement in Washington state:

1. Improve K-12 Financing: The state should allocate funds based on student need. A student-based budgeting system would improve equity and outcomes, and provide sustained resources for schools with greater concentrations of struggling students.

2. Enhance Supports and Accountability: The state must be able to identify low-performing schools and struggling students, and use a robust accountability system to target resources. Policymakers should strengthen support and intervention strategies, measure and report on progress, and set clear timelines for performance improvement with concrete consequences.

3. Increase Access to Educator Talent: Policymakers should take steps to grow the pipeline of great teachers and leaders for low-performing schools and struggling students.

4. Close Achievement Gaps Early: The state should continue to make targeted investments to expand early learning options for low-income children.

These focus areas are a core piece of the Roundtable’s long-term effort to help prepare more Washington students to take advantage of great job opportunities available in our state, the vast majority of which will be filled by workers with postsecondary credentials. Learn more about the “Washington Kids for Washington Jobs” research series and outreach efforts at


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