The claim: Starting in 2008, Seattle Public Schools reported that a meager 17 percent of its high-school graduates met the entrance requirements for four-year colleges. The district quietly quit using that number then recently revised it, without comment, to 46 percent.
"...revised it, without comment..." classic SPS. This is why, when you read a contract or a hard number, you should bookmark that page or print it out. It might just disappear and you'll feel like you got gaslighted (how old am I to use that reference).
Now that 17% is out there in ether and even though many of us were left scratching our heads (how did all those seniors at Roosevelt get into college?), what can you do? This 17% number has been used by LEV, Seattle Foundation and many other "community" groups.
What the Times found:
The 17 percent was one of the numbers district leaders used to justify the district's five-year plan that included a new system of assigning students to schools, more testing for students, and new teacher and principal evaluations.
That statistic was false, but the district used the number in presentations to the School Board and to the public.Other groups picked it up as well, using it to lobby for their own priorities.
So what happened?
About two weeks ago, without fanfare, the district reported a new, much higher number. In a ream of data released that day on how its schools and the district as a whole are doing, it said 46 percent of the students who graduated this past June met the entrance requirements for Washington's public four-year universities.
The district did not call attention to the change, or explain why the number had changed so dramatically.
The reason: The 17 percent was never really what it seemed.
Brad Bernatek, the district's director of research, assessment and evaluation, said he came up with the 17 percent figure in 2008, but it was supposed to be a measure of how many high-school graduates were prepared to succeed in four-year colleges, not just get admitted.
To arrive at that figure, he counted only students who took four years of math and three years of science — more than what's required by public four-year colleges in this state. He also ruled out any student who didn't have a B average, even though a C average is enough to apply.
To repeat, Brad Bernatek just made his own ideas up about what students need to get into college. The district used this figure at many community meetings.
The district says:
It's unclear whether district staff oversimplified the explanation, misunderstood what Bernatek was trying to do or misused it in their zeal to convince the public and potential funders of the need for the changes outlined in the five-year plan.
What is clear: At least one School Board member raised questions about the figure from the beginning. And the district didn't publicly correct it, even after it pulled the figure from some of its own reports.
Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson says that was a mistake.
"We should have changed the public conversation," Goodloe-Johnson said Friday.
"We should have come forward sooner," she said.
While staff understood what the number was supposed to be, she said, she acknowledges the district didn't make its meaning clear to the public, especially after it decided to quit using it.
You crass, cynical bureaucrat. How dare you talk about public conversation when all you do is talk fast and spew non-related "information" to throw people off. Staff knew what it meant? Staff knew they were putting out false information? And they all sat on their hands and kept their mouths shut
Yoo hoo, School Board?
School Board President Michael DeBell said 17 percent always seemed too low to him. He raised questions about the number from the beginning, was told that staff would look into it, but said he never received a satisfactory answer.
"Every time I heard it, I cringed," he said. "I knew it was way too low. We were doing much better than that. I couldn't understand why we were putting that kind of data out."
Ramona Hattendorf, the former SCPTSA president said she asked Goodloe-Johnson about it and go the famous "I'll get back to you" phrase. She feels bad for spreading incorrect information. Don't Ramona, it's not YOUR fault. But please, SCPTSA know going forward that always staying on the side of the district is not your role and not where you should position yourself.
Bernatek said he stopped using the number about a year ago for two reasons. He worried about measuring students against a bar they didn't know existed, he said, and he also learned he'd left out some career- and technical-education classes that should have been counted as math classes.
In retrospect, Bernatek said, he wished he'd done more to make sure the public knew the issues with the number and why the district stopped using it.
"I didn't communicate that well enough," he said. "In fairness to the people who used it, it was still on our website."
He should be fired. I am going to e-mail the Board this morning and demand it. He knowingly (and likely with reason) put out false information
Thank you to Dan D. for this heads up.