Report cards for Seattle schools: grading each building

Nov 8, 2010

A lot of attention has been focused on improving public schools. But figuring out how schools are doing can be tricky. Some people say test scores and graduation rates don't show the whole picture. Now administrators in Seattle say they've come up with a better system.

When the new evaluation system is unveiled Tuesday, each school will get a report card with more than 2 dozen categories on it.  In pretty, primary colors, the report breaks down not only how many students are passing statewide exams, but also whether students have made gains. 

It monitors progress for those who've historically struggled - such as English Language Learners and students from low-income families. And it spells out the school's improvement plans. That's data the district hasn't made public before, but Cathy Thompson, executive director of instructional services, says it's vital.

"You can't make the changes if you don't have the data," Thompson says.

"I was a principal 3 years ago and we never had this kind of data presented all in one place and in a way that felt comprehensive enough to really make truly informed decisions," she added.

Thompson says the data also makes the school district's efforts more transparent to the community. And it gives families a way to hold administrators accountable.

The data also allows the district to put schools into groups, or levels, based on performance. It tags low performing schools as level 1. Top achievers are level 5. The rest end up somewhere in between. Administrators say the rankings help them decide which schools need the most attention.


"If a school is a level 1, we'd give them additional resources," says Jessica de Barros, manager of academic planning and school improvement.  

"And we also are directive in how we tell them to spend those resources because we want to make sure they're investing in things that research shows work and that the district can support."

If a school stays in the lowest performing group for 3 years, the district could also take more severe measures, such as removing the principal or staff members. But administrators say they're more interested in supporting schools than doing anything drastic.

Schools that do poorly have a chance to improve before report cards come out again next year.

Regional Meetings About New Reports:

November 29, 2010
Roosevelt High School

November 30, 2010
South Lake High School

December 6, 2010
Whitman Middle School

December 7, 2010
Washington Middle School

West Seattle
December 9, 2010
West Seattle High School