This short story is about The Road Map Project's impact on closing the achievement gap in Seattle.

The numbers never lie – but sometimes they hide the truth. Consider: the rate of educational achievement in the Seattle metro region. In 2010, nearly half of all residents had earned at least a bachelor’s degree – a striking number, made all the more striking by the fact that nationally, only about 30% of Americans are college graduates. But dig a little deeper into the data, and you find that the region’s numbers are skewed by out-of-staters who move to the area. In fact, only about 25% of youth who came through the local public school system hold college degrees, and when we look solely at people of color, that number plummets to 10%. Stark statistics, stark truths – both of which are being confronted via collective impact.

The Road Map Project hopes to foster large-scale change by implementing a four-pronged approach: aligning cross-sector actors, engaging parents and community members in the development of solutions, building stronger and more seamless systems, and leveraging the power of data to fuel improvement. This last element has proven to be especially powerful to date. By harnessing the power of numbers, the Road Map Project has changed the conversation about education and catalyzed collective action. 

Stakeholders recognized early on in 2010 that focusing solely on Seattle and South King County’s high school students wouldn’t be enough to solve the underlying problem; instead, the Road Map Project adopts a “cradle to career” approach intended to double the number of students on track to graduate with a college-level credential by 2020 while simultaneously closing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color. Having attracted high-profile local support for its mission (from, among others, the City of Seattle and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), the Project’s next step was to create a system of shared measurement. The initiative selected several indicators where progress can be tracked from year-to-year (or as often as possible), and are linked to student educational success.

With its indicators in place, the Road Map Project is able to leverage data in a number of ways. Most immediately, the data show whether students are meeting their achievement goals, and the strategies are continually reviewed and revised accordingly. The initiative goes further, however, in an effort to hold itself accountable to the Seattle and South King County community – it releases the indicators, and current progress toward those indicators, on the Road Map Project website and through an annual report. Publicizing the data has helped to spawn friendly competition between school districts: as one administrator has said, “we were seeing how other districts around us were doing…we don’t want to look worse than them.”

The numbers never lie – sometimes they highlight the truth. Even though the Road Map Project is early in its implementation, several gains have been made. Partners in the region collaborated to increase the number of students receiving the state’s College Bound Scholarship – giving students a free-ride to college – raising the number of eligible low-income students enrolled in the program to 93% in 2013, up from 53% just three years ago. In addition, in 2012, Road Map Project partners competed in the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top competition. Only two groups were awarded the maximum grant possible. The Road Map Project partners were one of them. The $40 million they received infuses the initiative with significant new funding – and it provides evidence that the Road Map Project finds itself on the right path.