One of the curious things about the CAC’s final recommendation report is the number of column inches devoted to explaining the decision to close Graham Hill Elementary, a rationale (or should I say, “rationalization”) that consumed half of the five pages covering the five schools impacted in the SE quadrant.
Indeed, no other school on the list was critiqued with such surgical precision in an effort to paint a picture of comparative academic weakness. While most schools were simply compared by WASL performance, the CAC was forced to first separate out the scores of our Montessori students from those in our so-called “regular” program, and then finally zero in on only the Reading scores of those “regular” students qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. And rather than using the multiyear averages generally cited elsewhere, the CAC only looked at 2005… a year our school was in turmoil under an incompetent principal the staff was struggling to oust.
The CAC’s conclusion:
By the 2005 Reading results for students living in poverty, the percent meeting standard for students in the regular program was 12th of 17 in the quadrant (above only the two schools with lower results we were already recommending to close or merge).
From this the district brands Graham Hill a failed school? Gimme a break.
Hell… why not break it out even further? Why not compare our 2005 reading scores of bilingual, “regular” program students living in poverty with the 2005 reading scores of bilingual “regular” program students living in poverty at other SE quadrant schools? Why not compare the math scores of students whose last name begins with the letter “Q” for that matter?
The fact is, when judged on the same criteria used to judge other schools — you know, counting the scores of all our students — Graham Hill consistently ranks in the top third of SE quadrant schools. But even when you break out our Montessori scores (something that had never been done before in the thirteen years of the program, and something that has yet to be done with the Montessori program at Bagley,) our “regular” student’s WASL scores still fare well compared to our neighboring schools.
The following table compares the two-year (2004-2005) WASL average for Reading, Writing, and Math at all 16, SE neighborhood schools, with Graham Hill’s Montessori program broken out separately from our “Contemporary” program (which is what we prefer to call the program the CAC demeans as “regular.”)
|2||Graham Hill Montessori||76%|
|6||Muir (with Spectrum)||54%|
|7||Wing Luke (with Spectrum)||53%|
|9||Graham Hill Contemporary||49%|
|10||African American Academy||47%|
As you can see, our Contemporary program fares respectably; despite its high number of bilingual and special education students, it is actually nipping at the heels of Muir and Wing Luke, both of which house Spectrum programs. Meanwhile our Montessori students earn amongst the highest combined scores in the quadrant. (And at 100 percent proficiency for two years running, they earn the highest Reading scores in the entire district.)
Curiously, the CAC report specifically focuses on our 2005 Reading and Math scores, but ignores our Writing scores entirely. Could it be because the following table comparing our 2005 Writing scores to other schools in the quadrant doesn’t exactly scream out for Graham Hill’s closure?
|1||Graham Hill Montessori||83%|
|4||Wing Luke (with Spectrum)||60%|
|7||Graham Hill Contemporary||53%|
|10||John Muir (with Spectrum)||45%|
|14||African American Academy||34%|
Hmm. I wonder how the “regular” students at Muir and Wing Luke fare after you break out the scores of their Spectrum students?
We’ll never know, because the district and the CAC never bothered to evaluate their dual programs as separate schools… only Graham Hill received that honor. And only Graham Hill required two pages of cherry-picked data to twist its way onto the CAC’s closure list.
The two-year drop in enrollment from 388 in 2003 to 325 in 2005 that the CAC cites as evidence of our school’s decline? That intentionally ignores the fact that our enrollment temporarily peaked when we absorbed a large chunk of Brighton’s population while that school was closed for renovations. And it also ignores the fact that our official enrollment numbers consistently fail to reflect the 32 students in our Montessori preschool, who when properly counted raise our capacity utilization to over 91 percent… again, amongst the highest figures in the quadrant.
So the question remains: “Why?” Why did the district feed misleading data to the CAC, and refuse to correct or explain it after our repeated protestations? Why was the CAC guided to dissect our school in two, when other schools with dual programs, like Muir, Wing Luke and Bagley were evaluated as one? Why did the CAC contort itself to recommend closing a school that in terms of diversity, first-choice ranking, capacity utilization, and academic performance ranks amongst the highest in the quadrant? Why would the district want to shut down a school that recently underwent a $5.2 million renovation and expansion, and eliminate a Montessori program that produces some of the highest WASL scores in the district?
Superintendent Raj Manhas’s own recommendation list comes out later today, and if Graham Hill is still on it, perhaps he’ll show the Graham Hill community the common courtesy of explaining the real reasons why.
Saving Seattle Schools has more thoughts on the district’s selective use of data and criteria to rationalize closing schools:
Over and over at the Town Meetings, I heard schools refuting the data used in the CAC recommendations. It became clear that either the CAC had selectively picked data, choosing what best supported their decisions, or they had faulty data, or both.
The Graham Hill closure is a perfect example. The CAC report states that: “…students in the regular programs at Graham Hill fared less well than students in surrounding regular programs, and that allowing them to choose other programs would result in their being better served academically.” For supporting data, they used the 2005 Reading WASL scores only.
Using two years of data for all WASL topics, rather than one year of data for just one topic, the CAC would have been unable to conclude that, regarding the Graham Hill Regular program students, other area schools can “serve them as well or better.”
It’s a shame to reduce a discussion about academic performance to a mere comparison of WASL scores, but if that’s the metric the district is going to use to justify closing my school, then that’s the metric I’ll use to defend it.