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Originally published Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 12:03 PM

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State of the district: Seattle Public Schools falling short of five-year targets

With just one year left on its ambitious five-year plan, Seattle Public Schools continues to fall short of its academic targets, but it has made some progress.

Seattle Times education reporter

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With just one year left on its ambitious five-year plan, Seattle's school district continues to fall short of reaching the plan's academic targets.

For years, the district has said it didn't expect to meet many of the objectives it set back in 2008, which cover everything from reading scores to graduation rates.

But Thursday, officials said they don't expect to reach any of them by 2013.

Superintendent José Banda, in a state-of-the-district talk Thursday, focused on the progress that's been made, saying the 2008 plan put the district "on the right path."

Since last year, he said, the district has improved in about half of the target areas. The district also has seen substantial gains over the past four years in math scores and high-school-graduation rates.

On state math exams, for example, the fourth-grade-passage rate has gone up from 56 percent to 67 percent. For seventh-graders, the passage rate is now 67 percent, too, up from 53 percent four years ago.

Seattle students also continue to score higher than the state average in nearly all subjects and grades on state exams.

Yet the annual score card, which Banda unveiled at the midday talk, shows how much further the district had hoped to go.

By 2013, for example, it had hoped 95 percent of 10th-graders would pass the state's reading exam. Last year, just 79 percent did. Fewer than half of the students learning English as a second language are showing "typical growth" on the state reading test, while the target for 2013 is 80 percent.

Some say the discouraging results reflect budget cuts the district had to make when the economy faltered.

"We haven't been able to do all we've wanted to do," School Board President Michael DeBell said Thursday.

The district must reach the targets it set, he said, but it will need more time.

Others, however, said the problem isn't just money.

The success that some schools have achieved, despite the tough economy, illustrates that, said School Board member Sharon Peaslee.

"We're not failing districtwide," she said. "To me, that shows inconsistency, and that's the problem."

In his remarks Thursday, Banda said the district estimates it will need to cut another $15 million from its 2013-14 budget, but he pledged to find new ways to help students succeed anyway. The district's central office might need to be restructured to better help schools, he said. He also said he is considering some leadership changes.

"I'm not convinced," he said, "that we have all the right people on the right seats in the bus."

Parent Barbara Kelley, who is on the board of the Schools First-levy campaign committee, said she celebrates the schools that have made progress, but the district's overall results have made her decide to support the charter-school initiative (I-1240) that's on the November ballot. Kelley said she voted against charters in the past, but will support them this time because the district isn't improving fast enough.

That's one solution that Banda and the School Board don't share. After the state-of-the-district event, Banda and four of the board's seven members participated in a news conference where they reiterated their opposition to I-1240, saying it would hurt their efforts, in part because charters, as publicly financed schools, would use tax dollars that otherwise would go to existing schools.

The full district score card and reports on each school can be found at bit.ly/school_reports.

Along with Thursday's presentation, which was hosted by the nonprofit Alliance for Education and had limited seating, Banda also will give a 30-minute overview of the district at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 14 at the district's headquarters.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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