The latest summary of results from Seattle schools shows that performance gaps between white students and others are wider than ever.
Educators often say that it’s impossible to fix a problem until you measure it and understand the scope. Seattle Public Schools — by tracking everything from test scores to students’ feelings — has that part down. But results released last week underscore the fact that schools need to do much more than measure.
While graduation rates are up overall and more kids are taking college-level courses, according to the district’s 2016-17 Scorecard, gulfs in achievement between white students and the historically underserved (black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander) stretch as wide — or wider — than ever.
This good news-bad news pattern starts young.
Many more children walk into kindergarten ready to learn, for example, compared with three years ago. (Good.) But kindergarten-readiness rates among kids of color, while up from 2014, remain 33 percentage points behind those for whites.
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“Considering the wealth and resources of this community, we’re not growing at nearly the speed we should be,” said Stephan Blanford, puzzling at the data during his last evening as a member of the Seattle School Board.
By third grade, according to the district’s report, there was virtually no change in reading results compared with three years ago — for students of any type — so the skills gap that existed then is still nearly 39 percentage points between white children and others. (Third-grade math showed more progress, with the divide shrinking by 4 percentage points.)
By seventh grade, however, white students had made significant progress on reading and writing. Among black students, however, the needle moved only 3 percentage points.
And in math, the gulf between white and black seventh-graders has now stretched to 46 points.
Passing algebra by the end of eighth grade is traditionally viewed as an early indicator of college readiness. But Seattle is losing ground on this important benchmark. And when examined group by group, the numbers become even starker.
Only 18 percent of black eighth-graders had completed algebra last June, a decline of 6 percentage points from 2014.
White students, while lagging a bit on this measure, still show 58 percent passing algebra by the end of eighth grade.
“Our white and Asian students are outperforming most kids in the nation,” Blanford said. “But we should also have a reasonable proportion of black and brown kids at that level, too. That’s where my outrage is focused.”
Mary Jean Ryan, who studies results for students across South King County as executive director of the Road Map Project, called the data “a huge call to action that what we’re doing, as a system, is not working.”
But she noted that across South Seattle, individual schools with high poverty rates are posting standout scores.
“The trouble is, we don’t learn from them,” Ryan said. “Generally speaking, I don’t think we do enough to study success.”
Perhaps the most troubling number on the district’s entire 52-page scorecard involves Native American students. Fewer than half graduate from Seattle high schools in four years. They were the only student group to drop on that measure.
Claudia Rowe: 206-464-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @RoweReport.