With the advent of a new school year came renewed interest in making education relevant, rigorous and affordable. On the national, state and local fronts, education initiatives were launched and implemented, and standardized test scores were scrutinized. Some of these ideas could have far-reaching impact for today’s students and those in the future. Here are some highlights:
President Obama has launched a controversial college affordability plan. According to College Board and U.S. Census data, the average tuition at a public four-year college has increased by more than 250 percent over the past three decades, while incomes for typical families grew by only 16 percent.
Plan highlights include developing a new college ranking system (available by 2015) that would rate schools by performance and affordability, measuring such criteria as postgraduation income-to-debt ratio. These rankings could be used to allocate federal financial aid. Obama does not need congressional approval to set up the new ranking system, but he does need congressional support if school rankings are tied to federal financial aid.
The plan has been lauded as a step in the right direction. However, critics say that, just as some states felt pressure to produce more high school graduates to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation, colleges may feel pressure to boost their performance rankings by graduating unprepared students or being more selective in the students they accept.
Education Week reports that most high school graduates are not ready for the rigors of college, based on the latest national ACT scores for the class of 2013. The ACT is an achievement test measuring knowledge in English, math, reading and science, with an optional writing component. The SAT, the other common college-readiness test, measures aptitude in critical reasoning, math and writing.
A wider range of students from the class of 2013 took the test than in previous years. Yet composite ACT scores dropped to their lowest point in eight years, with 39 percent of test takers meeting three or more requirements in English, math, reading and science. One-third of students who took the test did not meet any benchmarks.
Though some contest the validity of this claim, especially in science and reading, the nonprofit ACT organization that oversees the test says its four college benchmarks predict a student’s chances of success in typical first-year college courses.
More students took the SAT in 2012 than ever before. SAT participation has increased 6 percent since 2008. Reading and writing scores have declined, while math scores have remained stable. Colleges accept either ACT or SAT scores.
The new national Common Core K–12 standards in English language arts and math have been implemented in Washington state. We join 45 other states and the District in Columbia in using these nationally developed, internationally benchmarked standards designed to prepare students for college and 21st-century careers.
The standards focus more heavily on reading and understanding informational texts across disciplines, including science, social studies and technical subjects. Teachers will supplement existing curricula and develop new materials to meet these new, more rigorous academic standards.
In 2014–15, the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP), the state standardized test for students in grades 3–8, will be replaced with the new Smarter Balanced Assessment, aligned with the Common Core standards.
To learn more about them, read our parents’ primer on Common Core.
Free, all-day K
Because of increases in state education funding, as mandated by the state Supreme Court, free all-day kindergarten is on the rise in Washington schools, with the goal of making it available at all schools by the 2017–18 school year. Funding for full-day kindergarten will be phased in over the next several years. The state biennial budget for 2013–15 will provide funding for 43.75 percent of Washington kindergartners.
Washington state’s class of 2013, the first class required to pass a math assessment to graduate, did so with flying colors.
According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), more than 90 percent of Washington’s public school seniors in 2013 fulfilled end-of-course test requirements in reading, writing and math.
In addition to passing the required subject exams, high school seniors must also fulfill credit requirements, a “high school and beyond” plan and an end-of-year project.
OSPI says more than 80 percent of students in the class of 2014 have already fulfilled testing requirements for graduation. The class of 2015 will be the first required to pass an end-of-course exam in biology.
New preschool plan
Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess has proposed “Preschool for All,” a plan to make voluntary, high-quality preschool available and affordable for all Seattle children, using a sliding scale for payment.
In early hearings about the plan, there was universal agreement that investment in early learning is essential and that the programs need to be of high quality. Seattle Public Schools, suffering from capacity problems, does not want to be the predominant provider of preschool programs.
Alison Krupnick is ParentMap's Education Editor and a former world-traveling diplomat turned minivan-driving mom and writer. She chronicled her transformation in her book Ruminations from the Minivan, Musings from a World Grown Large, then Small. Her writing has been published in Harvard Review; Brain, Child; Seattle magazine and a variety of news and trade publications and literary journals and anthologies. You can find more of her education reporting on Crosscut.com and enjoy sweet and savory moments and recipes on her blog Slice of Mid-Life. Have an education question or suggestion? Let her know!