Opinion: Latest state test scores show massive drop in learning at Washington public schools

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center discusses the decline in test scores in reading and math for state tests administered to students in November

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

Last week the state superintendent released district-level test scores in reading and math for the state tests administered to students in November 2021.  The findings are for the first statewide tests given to students since Gov. Inslee’s COVID lock-down orders started in March 2020.

The latest assessment shows schools failed to meet the standard in teaching math – 70% of students failed – and failed to meet the standard in teaching English – 52% of students failed.

The results for math and English learning are shown in the maps included here. 

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center discusses the decline in test scores in reading and match for state tests administered to students in November.

The long-term consequences of these devastating results are grim.  Early numbers show enrollment in Running Start, community college and universities has dropped significantly. The lengthy school shutdown has clearly caused many students to give up the dream of furthering their education. 

Even in Seattle, the wealthiest district with highest per-student spending, fully 57% of students failed in math, and 40% failed in English.  Seattle leaders boast that their numbers are not as bad as in other districts, but that’s like bragging you have the best-run failing business in your industry.

Even die-hard liberals like Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat admit public schools are getting terrible headlines.  He proposes intensive tutoring.  Good idea, but only if the tutoring aid goes directly to families, not into the very school districts that created the learning deficits in the first place.

More broadly, the legislature is considering innovative bills (like HB 1633, SB 5205, HB 1215, and HB 1555) that would provide up to $10,000 a year in direct education assistance to families, to pay for tutors, private school tuition, homeschooling or anything else kids need to learn.

More than 41,000 families have left public education since the lock-down orders started, and school choice is becoming even more popular than it already was.  A recent poll shows 71 percent of the public supports giving parents direct assistance to help children learn.

Given the bad experience of the last two years we need to try something new, something that will work.  Parents are frustrated about the failure of public schools to meet even the most basic teaching standards, yet they have little ability to affect meaningful change.  Broader school choice, however, is a proven way to get families engaged in high-quality education services, so that every child learns.

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.


  1. K.J. Hinton

    I get that everyone likes to blame this on Inslee. He IS, after all, in charge.

    But where have you people been?

    The schools were doing a miserable job long before anyone ever heard of covid.

    If you’d been paying attention THEN, you’d know that NOW.

    So, no. It’s not on him more than it’s on any other teachers union lackey.

    But Inslee isn’t the one doing the miserable job of teaching our children.

    THAT responsibility rests with the teachers union thugs and the dramatically overpaid, uncaring teachers infesting our schools, teachers who are typically far more concerned about inculcating our kids with their pathetic social engineering than they are making sure our children can actually do what they’re sent there to learn; teachers massively overpaid for these outcomes.

    Not protests. Not riots. Not beating the hell out of other kids.

    Nope. We can, and should, blame a lot on Inslee.

    But these outcomes aren’t all that different than those we used to get.

    Check out the OSPI report card. See what these massive, idiotic, unjustified pay increases the Supreme Court and the teachers union extorted out of us with the horrific increases in property taxes they all demanded.

    I knew that it was a waste of billions. And as long as teachers are not held accountable for these outcomes?

    Don’t expect to see any improvement.

    In school… or out.

    Let the excuses begin. But the blame, if their is one, rests where the rubber meets the road.

    The teachers.

    1. Mike

      And guess what the school districts do – ask for more money from the taxpayers to “fix” the problems. And their idea of fixing the problem – hiring more “counselors” and “administrators” to “help the children”. Will this fix the poor reading and math scores – NO!

  2. agon7777

    And people wonder why school bonds continue to fail in most of the school districts. You can’t fix “stupid” with more money. It’s time to take a good, hard look at the real problem.

    1. Mike

      The public needs to become involved – no more school board members with “endorsements” by the teacher’s unions. Getting the unions (to include the SEIU and those associated with the administrators) out of the system would be a first step in regaining control of the schools

  3. christodamas

    As several other people have noted, it is not just COVID that is causing the learning loss. It is also a hyper focus on non-academic instruction, specifically gender and race activism that predate the pandemic. These issues in particular are now embedded into almost every subject taught and every aspect of daily life in public and (sadly) private schools.

    Yes, it is important to get back to in-person instruction, but it is equally important to ensure that children are being given a proper education. If children cannot read, write and do math, the schools are failing in their basic mission, and in looking at what IS being taught, it is easy to see why grades and basic proficiencies were slipping even before COVID. Instruction through the “lens” of SEL, DEI, CRT and gender studies shifts the primary focus away from traditional teachings of STEM, Civics, History, English, etc. and towards a newspeak version of education that is intentionally designed to produce a generation of young left-wing activists.

    This not only is setting these kids up for failure and disappointment later in life, but also is likely to have a devastating impact on the future of this country. Fortunately parents are beginning to wake up and realize what is being pushed on kids in classrooms and they are taking action to demand transparency in curriculum, and ousting school board members who not only encourage this brainwashing, but intentionally lie about how it is being implemented. The rot is deep however, and this will not be an easy process. There are gender and race Marxists at every level of the education system who are dedicated to their cause, and undoing the damage they are doing will take time and perseverance.

  4. Delmer Eldred

    Great article but very depressing the education that we are paying top dollar for is getting worse and worse. The future of our country is a stake thanks to school administrators that care less about academics and more about pushing their socialist agenda.
    Thank You Liv for all you do


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *