I just read Danny Westneat's article in the Times today, A school worth studying. As I began the article, my reaction was quite cynical. I don't consider WASL scores to be a necessary or sufficient measure, by themselves, of success in a school.
However, I do consider high WASL scores along with high numbers of families making the school a first choice along with interesting academic and non-academic programs a very reliable indicator of a successful school. And Van Asselt meets all those criteria.
And I was excited by what Danny reported when he visited the school:
#1) The teachers do not "teach to the test" or make the WASL the main focus of their work. Instead, they try to keep classes interesting so kids will learn. The school also offers plenty of recess, and "a major focus on in-school art, gym and especially music."
#2) Five years ago, the school began "aiming the classroom instruction at the most gifted and talented kids...They call it "teach to the highest." It's accompanied by a tutoring program designed to prevent anyone from falling too far behind."
I'd be willing to bet that those two strategies could be successful at any school, even though how they are implemented might need to be different, depending upon the students and the school culture.
Raj and School Board members, this is the kind of goal setting/priority setting that could make a difference in the district! A five-year plan with a million objectives and no accountability (or even responsiveness when community members ask about accountability) doesn't do it. Vague statements about "academic excellence for all" and "closing the achievement gap" don't do it. Instead, pick a few things that will really make a difference and focus all the district energy on making those things happen.
Melissa Westbrook posted the following comment regarding Van Asselt and the Seattle Times article:
"Turns out they are making huge strides in academics for their students despite having a large free/reduced lunch population (80%). More of their students passed all 3 parts of the WASL than at TOPS, John Stanford and Stevens. The secret to their success? Two things. One, they don't teach to the test, still having 3 recesses and lots of art. Two, they teach to the top. They figured out that teaching to the middle/bottom leaves you there. Mr. Westneat even uses the word "gifted" which was daring. This is exactly the technique that Superintendent Riley is using over in Bellevue (with great results). "