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Sunday, August 28, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New data challenge perception of schools

Seattle Times staff reporter

What is the measure of a "high-performing" school?

While federal law defines it as the percentage of students passing a test, Seattle and other districts are collecting data that focus on how the same students perform year to year on tests in reading and math.

Seattle's progress reports, available on the district's Web site, use a color code to portray the effect a school had on the average student's growth: Green means the school moved the average student ahead by more than a year; yellow, by a year; and red, by less than a year.

The reports challenge popular perceptions of "good" and "bad" schools.

For example, John Stanford International Elementary, which teaches students core subjects in two languages, has the longest kindergarten waiting list among the city's public schools.

But fourth-grade students in the K-5 school, on average, made less than a year's worth of progress in reading in 2004, even though a substantial number passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL).

As a result, Karen Kodama , the school's principal, said her staff decided to give native Spanish-speaking students more homework in English, so they will be better prepared for the English-only WASL.

Rainier View Elementary in Southeast Seattle is not a popular first choice. About 80 percent of students live in poverty. The school performs far below the district average on the fourth-grade WASL reading test and faces federal sanctions as a result. But the district's data show that students are catching up to what an average fourth-grader should know.

The average Rainier View fourth-grader made more than a year's growth in 2004, a big improvement over earlier years.

Alternative schools, which historically have discouraged standardized testing, can appear low-performing on the WASL and in the progress reports, as do Orca K-5 and Summit K-12.

Orca K-5 takes pride in having students demonstrate their learning through student projects, not tests, said Principal Ben Ostrom.

While the district now provides progress reports at the school level, several principals say they want student-level growth data. The district estimates that providing that data would add about $70,000 to the district's budget.

Broadview-Thomson Principal Jeanne Smart, whose school scores high on the WASL and in accelerating students' growth, says she thinks it could have a powerful effect.

"You know what motivates people? Efficacy, evidence they can make a difference."

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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