Standards and Accountability: Washington state has set clear and specific standards in all grade spans for science and mathematics.
But the state’s English standards are clear and specific solely at the elementary level. And social studies/history standards are clear and specific only for middle and high schools.
The state has yet to develop a full complement of tests aligned with its academic-content standards. The state has standards-based exams in all grade spans in English, math, and science. But it lacks standards-based tests in social studies.
One of the strengths of Washington state’s testing system is that it uses a variety of test items throughout students’ schooling. The state is one of 19 that use multiple-choice, short-answer, and extended-response questions in English and other subjects to measure student performance on state exams.
The state publishes test data on school report cards. It also assigns ratings to all schools based, in part, on test results.
Washington provides help to schools that are rated low-performing, but its grade suffers because it does not impose sanctions on both low-performing Title I and non-Title I schools. The state does not give cash rewards for high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Washington is doing little to ensure that its prospective teachers demonstrate competence in the subjects they plan to teach, and that shortcoming severely hurts its grade.
The state is one of only five that do not require high school teachers to either pass content tests or complete majors in the subjects they will teach. The state requires its teachers to pass only a basic-skills test prior to certification. While some teacher-candidates may obtain subject-area endorsements by completing coursework requirements, others may do so by meeting competencies that do not require the equivalent of majors or minors in their subjects.
On the plus side, Washington requires every teacher in the classroom to complete a “professional growth plan,” including the development of a portfolio, to receive a more advanced teaching license. The state has professional-development standards and finances professional development for all districts. The state’s school and district report cards do not include the teacher-qualification data tracked by Education Week. Washington does identify low-performing teacher education institutions, based in part on the performance of their graduates in classrooms.
School Climate: The school climate indicators for Washington state are mixed. The state has a higher percentage of 4th and 8th graders in schools where officials report that physical conflicts are not a problem, or are only a minor problem, compared with other states, based on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress background survey. Washington also stands out as one of 17 states that survey students, parents, or teachers about the conditions in their schools.
Compared with their peers in other states, Washington’s 4th graders are among the most likely students in the country to attend schools where more than half of parents attend parent-teacher conferences. But its 8th graders are among the least likely to attend such schools.
The state provides families with limited public school choice. Washington has a statewide system of open enrollment, but is one of only 10 states without charter school laws. The legislature passed a charter school law in 2004, but a voter-approved ballot measure in November blocked it from taking effect. The average elementary-class size in the state, according to data from the federal 2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, is 23.9 pupils, one of the largest in the nation.
Equity: Washington is about average when it comes to resource equity. The state ranks 22nd out of the 50 states for its wealth-neutrality score, which measures the link between property wealth in the state and the amount of local and state revenue available to districts. The state’s positive wealth-neutrality score indicates it may need to do a better job of funneling resources to less well-to-do districts. The state ranks 34th on the McLoone Index. Its McLoone Index indicates that the state spends almost 93 percent of what is needed to bring all students to the median level for per-pupil spending in the state.
Spending: The state falls below average on every spending indicator. With $6,779 in per-pupil spending in the 2001-02 school year, the state ranks 42nd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That amount was about a 4.3 percent increase from the previous year. About 24 percent of students in the state attend schools in districts with spending at or above the national average. Washington ranks 38th on the spending index, which measures the percentage of students in districts with average or above-average spending, and how far the rest are below the national average. The state spends 3.4 percent of its total taxable resources on education. The national average is 3.8 percent.