Addressing Achievement Through Opportunity: Washington State's Approach to Closing the Gap


Executive Summary

Addressing Achievement Through Opportunity Report

Achievement gaps in mathematics and reading between students of differing socio-economic status and/or race and ethnicity have persisted for decades. Nearly 20 years ago, a group of Washington state policymakers, alongside several community leaders and advocacy organization representatives set out on a course to address and close these gaps once and for all.

Their journey began with developing an understanding of the inputs and outputs of the educational system itself, thinking through the educational opportunities and resources provided to students and how these related to achievement.

Opportunity vs. Achievement Gaps

Washington State legislators and other community and advocacy organization representatives devoted significant time and energy toward rethinking their approach to discussing and framing complex and persistent achievement gaps and concluded that the achievement gap resulted from an opportunity gap.

  • Opportunity gaps: The differences in students' access to highly effective educators, exemplary curriculum and materials and appropriate academic and social supports. These opportunities, resources and supports can be thought of as educational inputs.
  • Achievement gaps: The differences in test scores between racial, ethnic and socio-economic student groups. These gaps can be thought of as educational outputs, resulting from the educational inputs received. 

This case study outlines the steps that state legislators and stakeholder groups took to study state education data, hear from students, parents and community members, form a legislative oversight committee and make policy recommendations. Their efforts were instrumental in the passage of legislation creating a systemic approach to closing educational opportunity gaps and their resulting achievement gaps. This case study gives a detailed look at these efforts, including the timeline, the recommendations made, keys to success and next steps.

This publication was made possible with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Matt Weyer is a senior policy specialist in NCSL's Education Program.

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