Ingraham High Affair Shows the District Is Measuring the Wrong Things

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Interim Seattle Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield is getting kudos for reversing her firing of Ingraham High's popular principal Martin Floe. "It's a brave and wise leader who admits a mistake," writes the often-fierce district critic Melissa Westbrook on the Save Seattle Schools blog. True enough. Yet the episode also offers important lessons for the district.

1.) The obsession with test scores has gone too far. Enfield has emphasized that her initial firing of Floe wasn't rash but was based on a year's worth of observation. That yielded various "data" about scores, which Enfield used to justify her decision (a rationalization that seemed weak even on its own terms). Somehow, though, that prolonged assessment missed the fact that Floe was universally considered an inspirational leader by parents, students, and teachers. That's a rare thing, and to have discounted it shows that the district is measuring the wrong things.

Under Enflield's data-driven predecessor, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, the district brought in thrice-yearly MAP tests, which came on top of state testing. (It's been back to back testing over the last few weeks.) Many teachers and principals view all that testing as disruptive, and the battery of scores is more confusing than edifying to parents.

2.) What we're doing for minority students isn't working. Not obsessing over test results doesn't mean we should ignore them. The reason education reformers brought in more testing (à la No Child Left Behind) is so that we would sit up and take notice of glaring problems. What the Ingraham affair drove home is that we have a big, big problem district-wide with the performance of minority students. As we noted yesterday, throughout SPS, only 12.5 percent of last year's African-American sophomores met the standard on the state math test. At Rainier Beach High, only 3.9 percent did.

3.) Parents and teachers are not the enemy. Paul Hill, director of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education, suggested that Enfield's reversal on Floe could set a dangerous precedent. "It kind of gives a blueprint for resistance," he told The Seattle Times. This is a rather paradoxical comment from Hill, who is a big supporter of charter schools, which are all about parent empowerment. But it does indicate an all-too-prevalent attitude that reform has to be forced down the throats of the people who are actually in the schools everyday. Yes, some will fight the district at every turn and make school board meetings as unpleasant as possible. But when virtually everybody at a school is trying to tell the district something, it would be foolish not to listen.

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