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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Teach to the Top, Plenty of Recess, Art & Music

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). "

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

So here's a test. Every year we hear the leadership of Seattle Public Schools talk about duplicating successful programs, but they never do. Here, in Van Asselt, they have a successful program that is reproducable. What effort, if any, will be made to reproduce it? Anyone want to risk a guess?

How much do you want to bet that the Superintendent says that they will do this - either in his State of the District address or at the Community Conversations? How much do you want to bet that no one will challenge the statement by noting that we always say we're going to do that but we have never done it yet?

Anonymous said...

I remember once, a long time ago, taking a tour of TOPS. I asked the then principal why, if the program was so popular, it wasn't duplicated. She said that it couldn't be because of the community of the teachers and students. I feel like this is the district's answer to everything. "Well, every school is different, some parents or teachers wouldn't like XYZ." This is why I advocate for the district (via Carla Santorno) to take a stronger control of the reins and say, "This is the way it is going to be for the sake of the students." It would streamline the district and allow the district to know how schools are doing. The all-over-the place WASL scores are prove of that. How are Van Asselt, Cooper and others moving ahead and BF Day, AAA and other falling further behind?

Anonymous said...

W/ respect to Mel Westbrook's comment "like Mike Riley is doing in Bellevue", know that Bellevue has a dumping ground - Robinswood "Alternative" High School for all middle schoolers who might hurt the much vaunted national statistics at highly ranked and publicized high schools like Newport and Sammamish. Despite public website mantras that Robinswood is "voluntary" middle school parents in other reference areas are given no choice as to Robinswood assignments out of their reference areas, areas they bought homes and located to. Robinswood has no AP, IB, no music education, no choice. We certainly have our problems in SPS but the wholesale dumping of kids out of their reference areas, away from their friends, support systems and other curricula in Bellevue can't be the answer. Nowhere in the Bellevue website does it allow users to see the "policies" - our SPS website sucks but in fact, it is a better tool than Bellevue's (unless of course you want to read the plaudits and quotes of Mike Riley. Last I looked Bellevue was a public district.