What's wrong with Seattle schools? Just ask the data

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda outlined a new, data-driven approach to student excellence Tuesday.
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Seattle Public Schools superintendent Jose Banda.

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda outlined a new, data-driven approach to student excellence Tuesday.

Aggregating student data to inform classroom management is the latest in a roster of changes coming to Seattle Public Schools this year, according to a Tuesday announcement by new Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. 

Banda outlined a series of upcoming changes to the city's schools at the dedication of the renovated 101-year-old McDonald School building, which is set to become the new home for the city's fourth international elementary school.

One new thrust, as described by Banda, will be toward improving "data-informed decisions in the classroom" to boost students' grades and test scores.

Existing test scores, grades and other bits of information will be crunched at the class, school and district levels to identify how improvements can be made for individual students and classes. Ethnicity and socio-economic information will also be used, Banda explained. A big part of the effort will be put into simply compiling and storing that data. 

"'We'll do this better than before. We're not adding more tests," Banda said.

He described this data gathering and crunching as a "tool" for teachers and principals, not as an end in itself. "You can take a look at the data to see where the gaps are," he said.

Banda assumes leadership of Seattle's schools in a year that it will also be tackling several other new ventures, including:

  • Collecting student test scores as baselines for teacher performance pay. Under the current Seattle teacher's contract, some pay will be based on how students perform on some tests. This year's test scores will be the baselines for performance pay in the 2013-14 school year, which will be the first time that measure will be used.
  • Completing a master plan to coordinate arts programs across the district. This is to ensure to that the appropriate instructors and equipment — such as specific musical instruments — can be shared between schools effectively. In a few months, the school district will seek grant money to put that master plan into action.
  • Starting technical programs at West Seattle, Rainier Beach and Center High Schools. Students interested in the aerospace industry or in the computer software and hardware fields can take appropriate courses at Rainier Beach, medical and health-related courses will be taught at West Seattle and Center School will host courses in digital animation and game programming. 
  • Creating a STEM-focused school. The district's first high school to focus mainly on science, technology, engineering and math programs will open in the Boren building in West Seattle.

After announcing these new initiatives, Banda participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at McDonald International Elementary School. The school will join three other elementary schools, two middle schools and Chief Sealth High School participating in Seattle's international program. Like McDonald's more than 300 students — participants in the international program are taught 50 percent of the time in English and the rest of the time in either Spanish, Mandarin or Japanese. 

Banda moved to Seattle this past summer from Anaheim, California, where he was superintendent of the Anaheim School District. A Seattle Times profile described him as low-key and respected, with a collaborative approach in Anaheim. 

Here in Seattle, Banda has taken over a school district with at least 49,500 students (as of the end of the 2011-2012 school year). Another 1,000 are expected when Seattle's student count is completed in October.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8