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Data Sources for School Board Candidates and Voters

Data Sources for School Board Candidates and Voters

By Stuart Jenner

October 13, 2023

At the school board candidate forum on October 10, 2023, several board candidates stated they needed to look at more information on student performance. One mentioned, “It is too soon after Covid to draw conclusions or be alarmed.” 

This article is for candidates and voters. Without looking at data, it is really easy to think, “Everything is fine in Highline.” But those who look closely at the data, and especially those who compare Highline to other districts, are likely to come away alarmed at the very inferior academic outcomes, both before and after Covid. 

I strongly suggest reading Danny Westneat’s column in the Seattle Times about the poor recovery from Covid – then read the story I wrote about how the percentage of Seattle students getting a 3 or 4 on the state standards tests is DOUBLE the percentage in Highline. Isn’t this alarming? 

How much more data do you need to say we have major problems and current approaches are not working? Are you fine with only 22% of students meeting math and 34% meeting English standards? Seattle’s rates are 53% and 63%, respectively!

Here are five data sources and some key points

I’ve used some of these in prior stories; others will be used in future reports.

1)  The state education report card

  • Note: a subset of this data is also available on the Highline District website

2)  The school board data report from a work-study session in September 2018. 

  • Yes, this was over five years ago, but this is the board’s last work study session with in-depth data about student outcomes.
  • The data includes SAT, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, and more.

3)  University of Washington, Seattle, data about first-year grades at the UW compared to high school GPAs 

4) College enrollment data from the Road Map project

  • Another perspective on what students do after high school

5)  School data aggregation websites, including Niche and Great Schools

  • These sites have their own formulas for taking the state performance data plus other sources and then creating ratings of schools

The Details

1) The state education report card

The state data report card includes test scores for grades 3 – 8 plus 10, information on attendance, enrollment, demographics and more. One can see trends. I have used this data in several articles, including the September 21 article linked-to above.

One key point: the SBA is an online test created by a consortium to measure progress against common core standards. The test is designed to be interpreted by educators using topic categories that do not align with how non educators think. For example, there’s no way anyone can look at the reports and see that their child has mastered addition of fractions, but doesn’t know how to multiply fractions. 

I talked with one parent at the board candidate forum about her child’s experience with math. She said how much he liked it at one time, but now was getting discouraged because he was marked “wrong” for not solving the problems the way Common Core authors said the problems had to be solved. 

Unfortunately, that’s another reason why the SBA tests are frustrating: you can get the right answer, but solve it the “wrong” way and then be marked down. 

Despite these big problems, there’s nothing else to look at. (Teachers give a test called iReady on a regular basis, but it is more of a snapshot and results are also for confusing for parents).

So, the data shows Highline is far lower than most districts, and that the recovery from Covid slump has not happened as much in Highline as in other neighbor districts. Again, here’s the story from September 21 that includes the most recent data. 

The Highline District takes this data and creates an annual report. It was last updated for the 2021-22 school year. It has a subset of the state data.  

2) The school board data report from a work study session in September 22, 2018. 

On September 22, 2018, the school board had a work study session where a part of the board packet included extensive data about student performance on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and SAT tests. The packet is 94 pages long and is posted on the district work study archives page. The performance data is on pages 46 – 56 (Advanced Placement scores), 57 – 68 (International Baccalaureate), and the SAT (79 – 85). Other topics in the report include suspensions, involvement in extracurriculars and more. 

I have asked board members, public records, administrators and teachers if they know of any similar deep dive that’s been done since that meeting five years ago. Everyone says no. They do say they get data and look at it, but my sense is they mean the annual report mentioned above, not SAT, AP and IB data.

Some key points from this work study handout:

        A. The data is only for two years: the school years of 2016-17 and 2017-18.
        B. For the class of 2018, only 43% of students met the English score of 480 that the College Board sets as a metric for College and Career Readiness.
        C. Only 24% earned the 530 considered the Math readiness score.
        D. Overall district numbers were boosted significantly by Aviation, with Mt Rainier also above average. Tyee, Highline, and Evergreen scores were significantly below the district average.
        E. A very high percentage of students who took AP tests got a 1 or 2. There is never any college credit for scores of a 1 or 2. Very few students outside of Aviation got a 4 or 5, which is more likely to result in college credit.

At some point, the archives will be updated and the 2018 report removed, so Burien News is archiving it here. 

3) University of Washington, Seattle, data about first year grades at the UW compared to high school GPAs

The UW only releases this data if there’s a public records request. In March 2023, I wrote an article on the results for Highline district grads. The findings: Aviation was average, Mt Rainier is at the bottom quarter, and Highline, Tyee, and Evergreen were in the bottom 5% of the state.

I also wrote a back story about the stonewalling and delays of the UW.

This data is a gold mine of how the top kids from the district do when they go to college. As far as I know, UW grading standards have not changed much in the past 20+ years. This is the only consistent metric available, as there have been many changes in the tests used to assess school districts. 

4) College-enrollment data from the Road Map Project

I have just started digging into this data from the Road Map project, which is focused on south King county school districts. One key finding: the percentage of students going on to college for the most recent data available, the class of 2022, is 35%. This is a notable drop from 2019, pre Covid, when the percentage was 59% directly enrolling within one year of graduation.

5) School data aggregation web sites, including Great Schools and Niche

There are several web sites that rate schools and districts. They use a combination of data from the state OSPI data portal plus other data sources, then apply statistical techniques to make adjustments. For example, they will adjust numbers by demographics.

I do not use data that is put together using an algorithm that is unavailable to review. But people buying homes look at them, and the data provides a quick way to make comparisons. 

Here are links to two of the sites:

Highline gets a C+ in Niche. I have no idea how they arrive at a B for college prep. I also don’t know what year’s data they are using, but it is unlikely they have the 22-23 data incorporated yet. 

Great Schools shows six percent of Highline schools are “above average” compared to 27% for the state as a whole. 

To close, there’s a lot of data, but it all pretty much supports one conclusion: the Highline district has a huge amount of room for improvement on core academics. 

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