When you think of scores and schools – you might think of sports. We certainly hear about those numbers far more often than on the ones that come from the classroom. So we were glad to hear from West Seattle Elementary School in High Point, excited to share the news of its ongoing academic success. The following is by WSES Ritchie Garcia:
West Seattle Elementary has had a dramatic turnaround of student performance on state exams since 2010. Over the last four years, science scores have increased from 3% to 70% passing rate.
Fourth- and fifth-grade reading scores went from 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively, to 70 percent and 73 percent passing rate.
Students have made significant progress in math as well:
We have a diverse population at our school as well as 90 percent of students receiving free and reduced lunch. Our success is significant because we are an achievement gap school that is making a difference for its students. Walking through the hallways in the building, you’ll see classrooms full of students completely engaged in learning and enjoying the school day.
How did this happen? Not overnight, would be the best response. Four years ago, West Seattle Elementary received a Race to the Top grant and experienced a restructuring of staff and administration.
Unlike a charter school that can create a new school culture overnight with its bylaws and self-selecting parents who agree to adhere to that school culture, it takes time (sometimes several years) to change the culture of an existing school. To change a culture, it has to be school-wide and requires strong leadership and partnership with the community, which is why there can be schools with great teachers and low-performing students. It takes a vision and intentional effort to redefine the culture of a school.
I have seen many public schools in affluent neighborhoods raise thousands of dollars through their community to procure materials, hire more teachers, etc.; that amount of fundraising makes it hard to communicate to students in impoverished areas that we are either a meritocracy or there is equity in the public school system. We can help bring some equity to our school by raising money through donations that help build capacity.
How did West Seattle attain success? Some teaching staff stayed throughout the four years and some have moved on. What has been consistent throughout is the leadership in the building and an implementation of systems school-wide. We do not teach a scripted curriculum nor to the test, but we do teach to meet state and common core national standards.
It is not all about increasing test scores, either. In K-2, teachers have instilled a passion for learning, and have taught students the roles and responsibilities of being a student as well as meeting learning standards. More students are arriving in the upper grades inquisitive and enjoying the learning process making it easier for all students to succeed. Many schools have great teachers but it takes more than just great teachers to change a culture or climate. It takes time.
Because we are a green school in an urban area and have made significant academic gains, we have been given an opportunity for our population of students to participate in a science field experience at Islandwood, with our students learning from scientists while conducting their own investigations as well as create a service learning project with Nature consortium. This is a learning experience in which students of low socio-economic status rarely get to partake.