School test results stay flat; achievement gap remains

SEATTLE — Washington state test scores show persistently wide gaps between students of different ethnic backgrounds despite increased focus on the issue in recent years, officials said Monday.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said it’s one of the problems that keeps him up at night. He believes more investments in pre-Kindergarten instruction would help, ensuring that students aren’t falling behind before formal schooling begins.

“Our investment has to not only be in K-12, but it has to be in early-leaning opportunities for those students,” Dorn said.

The achievement gap has persisted with little change for many years, and lawmakers created the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee in 2009 to help guide policy on the matter. Still, even in the last few years the differences have remained constant and in some areas are quite stark.

For example, 75 percent of Asian students in eighth grade met math standards this past year. For black students, only 32 percent met the standard and only 29 percent of American Indians did.

Dorn said there’s also a lot of work to be done to aid students who are still learning English as a second language.

For all students, this year’s test scores remained relatively flat. Some grades and subjects showed small improvements while others showed small declines, according to state figures.

This year’s 12th graders were the first who were required to pass a math exam to graduate, and the state says 92 percent of seniors met the math requirement. About 91 percent of 12th graders met all the state testing requirements.

Those numbers don’t count students who dropped out previously, and some of those seniors who met testing standards may not fulfill other requirements needed to graduate. The final on-time graduation rate won’t be available until early next year.

The students entering 11th grade this year will eventually need to also pass a science exam as a graduation requirement. Fewer than 60 percent of those students have met all the standards so far, with science being the most problematic subject.

Lawmakers are already moving toward providing extra dollars for the education system, allocating about $1 billion extra this year after a state Supreme Court determined that the Legislature was not fully funding public schools in the state. Lawmakers estimate they need to find a total of between $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion more over the coming years to fully pay for basic education.

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