Washington’s public schools have some of the nation’s best eighth-grade math scores but some of the worst high-school graduation rates.
Those are among the ways to quantify the condition of the Evergreen State’s schools as lawmakers try to comply with a court order to take over the full cost of basic education from school districts.
Business groups included the measures among others this week in an analysis of how the state fares on education, transportation and the economy. The “Opportunity Index” ranks Washington 18th for education quality and outcomes, 38th for transportation reliability and efficiency and 23rd for economic vitality.
The overall score: 24. “Good but not great,” is how Washington Roundtable president Steve Mullin described it to reporters.
“Our goal is to make Washington great,” Mullin added in a statement announcing the results. “Our education system must improve, particularly in high school and postsecondary outcomes. Our transportation system must be safer and more efficient, something the Legislature took great steps to address this year. The business cost and regulatory environment must be balanced and predictable.”
The index comes from Opportunity Washington, a coalition that includes the Roundtable, Association of Washington Business and Washington Research Council.
The top overall ranking goes to Massachusetts, driven by what the coalition said is a strong education system and private investment in research and development. The coalition ranks Kansas best on transportation and Delaware tops on economic factors.
The measures use the most recent available data from a number of sources and don’t necessarily show identical time periods or capture the effects of a recent upswing in state funding for public schools and higher education.
According to the index, Washington awards more than its share of two-year degrees but lags in four-year and advanced degrees.
Washington ranks 40th in a federal comparison of high school graduation rates, according to the coalition. Separate state calculations show Washington’s graduation rate climbed to 77.2 percent for the class of 2014 but isn’t keeping pace with improvement goals.
The state fared better in test scores, ranking 15th in fourth-grade reading and seventh in eighth-grade math, according to the coalition. The scores come from tests given to selected schools nationwide as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The index didn’t include school funding as a measure, but Census data shows Washington is in the middle of the national pack for total per-student spending at No. 29.
Most school funding comes from state government and the state is now taking on a larger share by adding money for operating costs, all-day kindergarten and class-size reduction in lower grades. AWB president Kris Johnson said new money should come with incentives to spend it in ways that will improve educational measures.
“Two hundred ninety-five school districts decide how to spend that money,” Johnson said.