Despite years of investment in South King County schools, a new report shows that districts still aren’t meeting the needs of students there — and that the population of students is changing.

For example, the vast majority of students in seven South King County school districts say they want to continue their education after high school, but most also say they’re not fully prepared for college — and very few finish a degree by the time they’re in their 20s.

That’s one finding from an annual report released last week that measured student success in South King County, one of the most diverse regions in the area. Although Seattle is America’s most highly educated big city, the college-going numbers in those seven school districts expose “a glaring disconnect between the booming economy and low rates of post-secondary attainment for the young people growing up here,” said Mary Jean Ryan, executive director of the Community Center for Education Results.

The eight-year-old nonprofit’s Road Map Project hopes to end achievement gaps in Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton and Tukwila, as well as schools in the south end of Seattle.

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As the region’s economy boomed, many families moved to South King County because its housing is more affordable, Ryan said. But here, the lack of high-quality early learning programs that leaves only 35 percent of low-income children ready for kindergarten can exacerbate the problems of poverty.

Students of color now make up 72 percent of the Road Map region, a 37 percent increase over eight years. Only 19 percent of teachers in the seven districts are people of color. (That’s a problem across the state, even though a broad swath of research shows that students of color benefit academically and socially from having teachers who share their racial backgrounds.)


One of the goals of the Road Map Project is to send more students to college or some other form of post-secondary education, Ryan said. But even though 96 percent of students surveyed in the seven districts say they want to continue beyond high school, only about 30 percent earn a degree or career credential by their mid-20s.

Of 7,059 high-school students surveyed, the majority said they believe they’re not receiving adequate college and career preparation at school, the report found. Many inadvertently fail to take the courses required for entry into a four-year college, and some find themselves having to take pre-college, or remedial, classes if they go to a community college, Ryan said.

At least one college is making it easier for students to get started on a degree by trying to avoid diverting students to remedial education if they don’t need it, Ryan said. Highline College, a community college in Des Moines, no longer relies on placement tests to determine if a student needs remedial classes. Instead, Highline reviews high-school transcripts, or just lets students decide for themselves if they need remediation. And Ryan notes that course pass rates have remained the same.

Ryan thinks the Seattle Promise Scholarship, which was approved by voters in November and gives future Seattle public high-school graduates two years of free community college, could help move the needle.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature is considering a proposal to turn the State Need Grant — a state college scholarship for low-income students which runs out of money every year — into a guaranteed grant for students whose families meet a certain income threshold.

And a coalition of regional education leaders is working on a proposal to increase staffing and support during the school day, to help students chart a path to college and beyond.


Ryan said there are some signs of progress among high-school students in the Road Map districts. More of the students are filing for financial aid, they’re taking more rigorous courses, and high-school graduation is up.

“We have to provide the young people with stronger support if they’re going to achieve their aspirations,” Ryan said.