State Superintendent Chris Reykdal's Top Priorities
Our state Constitution clearly states that it is Washington’s paramount duty to amply fund basic education for every child residing within our borders. In January 2012, the state Supreme Court upheld that concept in its McCleary v. Washington decision. This is more than a legal obligation – it’s critical that we support our students so they can achieve their dreams and our state can sustain our economy.
Since the McCleary decision, the state has increased the amount of basic education funding, but there is still work ahead of us. We must revise the local levy system, which creates inequality across districts, and our compensation system, which keeps beginning teachers from earning a livable wage. This is challenging work that will require bipartisan support, but I believe we can get there.
About 79 percent of students in the Class of 2016 graduated after four years of high school. We are increasing graduation rates, but we have more work to do!
Students who drop out of school have higher unemployment rates, higher health-care costs, lower
life expectancy, and they rely on government assistance more often. Every Washingtonian has a vested interest in improving graduation rates!
Our work in this area is both exciting and challenging. We will close opportunity gaps that exist for our students who are of color, low-income, and from other populations who have faced systemic barriers to their success.
To see the whole picture, we must look beyond test scores. We are looking at absenteeism, students who fail ninth grade classes (a common predictor of graduation rates), and suspensions and expulsions, among other factors. Our aim is to identify schools that are breaking the mold. We want to highlight schools and districts that are doing great work in helping every student succeed, no matter the student’s race, ethnicity, income level, or primary language. From this, we can support schools that are struggling to close opportunity gaps.
Though overall graduation rates are climbing, we must open up multiple pathways to graduation for our students. Career and technical education (CTE) programs and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities give students a chance to apply classroom learning to daily life and engage students who learn better in hands-on environments. One-third of our students will attend a four-year university after high school, so we must continue to build diverse pathways for the two-thirds of students who need more than a high school diploma but less than a baccalaureate degree.
Standardized assessments are an important way to measure system progress, but they are not the best, or only way to determine whether a student is ready for life beyond high school. Most states recognize this: At present, Washington is one of only four states that will require students to pass a high-stakes comprehensive test in order to graduate. We should uphold our standards and use assessments to measure state, district, and school progress, but we should not use
assessments as a barrier to student growth and achievement. Standardized testing is a federal obligation, but even the U. S. Department of Education does not require
standardized tests to be linked to graduation. Instead, we should emphasize our rigorous high school diploma with multiple pathways that meet the unique needs of our students and communities.