Ever wonder how school in Seattle compare with other school districts in the state of Washington? Maybe you'd like to know how Seattle schools compare to each other. How do Seattle's schools measure up to schools in the burbs? There's an excellent Web site that will give you all this information and more. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction's Washington State Report Card Web site has a virtual tool that will give you a side-by-side statistical comparison of three schools at once. You can compare statistics on enrollment, gender, ethnicity, special education, dropout rate, WASL performance, student-teacher ratio, teacher experience in years, and teacher education.
When I began experimenting with this tool, I was interested to see that some of the data did not match what I'd always been told about demographics and standardized testing. Take Seattle versus Bellingham. Each district has vastly differing economic and ethnic demographics (The majority of Bellingham's students are white while Seattle has more of a mixed demographic: 22.3% Asian or Pacific Islander, 21.8% Black, 11.4% Hispanic, and 42.4% White), but their 2006-07 WASL scores were similar: 72.3% of Seattle's students met the standard in third grade math, compared to 72.8% in the Bellingham school district.
I was also surprised to discover that Seattle schools with similar demographics were not always similar in their WASL scores. For example, Adams Elementary and Arbor Heights Elementary both have about the same number of students, with a similar ratio of males to females. Both schools have roughly the same percentage of black, white, and Hispanic students. However, 65.4% of the Adams Elementary students met the fourth grade WASL standards in math, while only 52.5% of the Arbor Heights students met the fourth grade math requirement. In the areas of fourth grade reading and writing, the trend was reversed. More students from Arbor Heights had met the standard than students from Adams Elementary.
Thus I discovered the limitations of this comparison tool. While I might guess that Arbor Heights scored higher in reading and writing because its teachers averaged more experience and education than Adams Elementary (Arbor Heights teachers have an average of 17 years' experience compared to nine years at Adams Elementary), that doesn't explain why Arbor Heights did worse in fourth grade math.
The Web site itself cautions against using the comparison to rank schools: It is important to remember the comparisons made using this tool are based solely on an individual criterion and should not be used to rank schools (or districts).There are many complex factors that influence student and school (or district) performance, all of which should be considered when analyzing a school's (or district's) overall performance.
What can the report card be used for, and how will it help parents? I decided to type in my own child's elementary school. I found that while my daughter's school was doing well in the areas of reading and math, they were struggling in science. Were there ways I, as a parent, could be more involved at my daughter's school in order to bring up those science scores? The OSPI says yes. And not only that, they hope that the report card will spark discussion and comparison of school methods that work versus school methods that aren't working: "The intent is to help identify similar schools (or districts) that may be using successful strategies to overcome gaps in achievement and to encourage the sharing of best practices among schools and districts."
So the basic message to users of this virtual comparison tool is this: Check out how your school is doing; then ask your principal or teacher how you can get involved. It's an excellent place to start analyzing how and where you, as a parent, can help improve your child's education.