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How South King County's Schools Are Doing: Report Highlights Highs And Lows

Kyle Stokes
An attendee of a special meeting of The Road Map Project's Education Results Network prepares to facilitate a small-group conversation about college enrollment data in seven south King County school districts.

Even as low-income populations south King County's suburbs have surged, seven school districts in these communities have seen modest gains on key standardized test scores over the past five years, according to a new report.

But the report also highlights the stubborn achievement gap between socioeconomic groups. That gap will be very difficult to close within five years in the ethnically-diverse region, where one in five students is still learning to speak English.

The report comes from The Road Map Project, an initiative backed by big local interests including the Gates Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation and Microsoft. The effort covers seven districts — Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Tukwila and the southern half of Seattle Public Schools — and aims to double numbers of students who are ready for college or a career after high school graduations by 2020.

'We Can't Rest Easy'

While the seven districts take their own approaches, schools in south King County face many of the same challenges, no matter what district they're in, say leaders of The Road Map Project. 

"Everything we're talking about today is regional," said Mary Jean Ryan, executive director of the Community Center for Education Results, which supports The Road Map Project.

Ryan unveiled the report during a speech before several hundred educators, parents and advocates in Renton Wednesday. She noted that individual schools or districts may be outperforming their peers in south King County, "but because of the mobility in this region, we can't rest easy if we don't hit targets for the children of this region."

How The Region's Schools Measured Up

The Road Map Project set targets for third- and sixth-grade reading scores, fourth- and seventh-grade math scores and fifth- and eighth-grade science scores.

Perhaps most critically, third-grade reading scores across the seven districts have barely budged since 2009. Third-graders who haven't mastered basic reading skills are rarely able to keep up in later years. But while The Road Map Project had hoped three-quarters of third-graders would be proficient this year, only 69 percent were meeting standard.

But sixth-grade reading scores showed more significant improvements, as did fifth-grade science results. Here's a look at all of the goals The Road Map Project set for the region:

Credit The Road Map Project's 2014 Annual Report
The Road Map Project tracks key test scores and data points in seven south King County school districts — Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Tukwila, Renton and the southern half of Seattle Public Schools — and has set region-wide goals for each of these measures.

This year's report didn't include test score data from two districts, Renton and Highline, as well as Tukwila Elementary School, which were excused from testing last year. That's because these districts were piloting the Common Core-linked tests that will replace Washington state's old standardized exams in all schools this spring.

The report, which didn't focus solely on test scores, also noted a significant drop in suspensions or expulsions for ninth graders in the region's schools, which are often a warning sign that a student will drop out of high school later.

Yet numbers on another "early warning indicator" have barely budged since 2009: Nearly one in three students in the Road Map region has accumulated more than six absences or failed a course in ninth grade.

'Thank You For This Data'

Leaders of The Road Map project released the report at a meeting of the Education Results Network at the Renton Pavilion. Attendees listened to presentations about the data, then broke into small groups to discuss what the data meant.

Florencia Ybarra, a parent coach with the advocacy group Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, was particularly struck by numbers showing Latino students enrolled in college less frequently than their white, black and Asian peers.

"We don't have that. Thank you for this data," Ybarra told her small group. "This data is scary, but it's also motivating me to share this information with the Latino community and say ,'look at the numbers,' not even 50 percent of the students are ready to go to college."

The Road Map Project gets support from several big names. To list a few, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Seattle Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation, Ballmer Family Giving, the Lumina Foundation and other philanthropies provide funding for the initiative, along with Microsoft and the nonprofit organization Washington STEM.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.