Maria Goodloe-Johnson Delivers Major Speech and Cements Her Legacy: Data

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Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson gave her first ever "state of the district" address last night. Undoubtedly, it was an attempt to alleviate her public relations problem. The superintendent has faced sharp criticism in recent parent surveys, suffered no-confidence votes by teachers and been told by the school board that she needs to improve her communication skills. Inspiration has never been the superintendent's strong suit. Instead, the superintendent last night showed off what she knows how to communicate best, and what it is increasingly clear will be her legacy: data.

From the moment the superintendent walked in the door in 2007, she has been talking about reshaping district policy according to the "data." And she has made sure there is a lot of it. She instituted new, thrice-yearly "MAP" tests. That's on top of other state and district evaluations, all of which have made the student testing schedule a dizzying affair.

She also created a five-year plan largely linked to the numbers--student test scores are supposed to go up by a certain amount within that time frame-- and a "district scorecard" that looks at overall results.

And now, she's giving the public yet more data. Coinciding with yesterday's address, she released new "school reports" that give lots of statistics for each individual school, as well as a ranking based largely on test scores.

To be sure, all this data increases the district aim of "transparency." Speaking at Mercer Middle School with a detailed power point presentation (see pdf), the superintendent was up front last night about the mediocre results she had to convey. Test scores went down in several areas, including 4th grade math.

But the never-ending charts and figures also have an impersonal feel. Is education really just about the numbers? One suspects that the superintendent herself doesn't think so. Goodloe-Johnson sends her 1st grade daughter to South Shore K-8--a school that has had a lot of parent and staff enthusiasm (as well as financial support from philanthropist Stuart Sloan) but mixed test results. On a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest, South Shore rates a two on its report card, making it one of the worst ranked schools in the district.

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