A Visual Ranking of Seattle Public Elementary Schools

One of the things people consistently tell me when they are considering buying or renting a house/apartment in a new location is that they want to move somewhere with “good schools”. This always maks me think what is a “good school” and more importantly, how do we quanitfy what schools are considered “good”? Generally this means using some sort of list of school data summarized in a fact sheet from a realtor/apartment manager or more likely using a websearch that results in sites such as Niche. This approach is generally fine but it assumes that you are only interested in a specific neighborhood which may be difficult to achieve right now in most major cities across the US and especially in Seattle.

What if instead we looked at school ratings in all neighborhoods simultaneously in a city? This would allow the user to spot trends and make some visual comparisons as well as possibly identify overperforming schools in unexpected areas. Fortunately, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) provides quite a lot of data about their schools which makes this easy to visualize.

Setup

  • For this analysis I just used the SPS data for the 2016-17 school year.

  • I focused solely on elementary school data for the 2016-17 school year. I used the SPS district boundary map for all elementary schools in the City of Seattle and ignored any magnet or alternative elementary schools.

Rankings

My initial questions were focused on what school has the best student/teacher ratio? What school has the best attendance and what schools are good for reading and math?

I took the student/teacher ratio, attendance rate, and reading and math proficiency scores for each school and calculated the rank of that school within the city and made this table. Click on the category name to sort by that category.

School Name Attendance Rank Student/Teacher Ratio Rank Grade 3 Math Rank Grade 3 Reading Rank
Adams 12 53 29 21
Alki 20 35 12 15
Arbor Heights 21 31 45 33
Gatzert 42 4 49 56
Beacon Hill Int’l 1 32.50 30 37
B.F. Day 16 43 25 23
Broadview-Thomson K-8 49 2 46 45
Bryant 6 55 3 4
Cascadia 2 59 1 1
Catharine Blaine K-8 38 15 6 13
Concord Int’l 44 22 59 60
Bagley 10 20 24 19
Dearborn Park Int’l 61 61 61 61
Dunlap 43 5 56 55
Emerson 58 14 43 53
Fairmount Park 22 47 2 3
Coe 9 48 10 9
Gatewood 35 26 33 40
Genesee Hill 24 50 16 20
Graham Hill 39 10 55 49
Green Lake 31 37 26 28
Greenwood 15 54 20 17
Hawthorne 46 16 48 41
Highland Park 48 6 57 50
Hay 8 38 19 10
John Muir 23 25 52 48
John Rogers 33 24 34 34
Kimball 30 32.50 40 36
Lafayette 29 44 27 25
Laurelhurst 34 49 15 24
Lawton 26 42 4 6
Leschi 53 36 37 44
Lowell 60 3 58 54
Loyal Heights 17 58 5 7
Madrona 52 1 47 43
Maple 19 28 31 32
MLK Jr. 45 8 54 58
McDonald International 7 30 23 2
McGilvra 25 40 14 11
Montlake 37 51 9 16
North Beach 14 46 13 12
Northgate 51 11 50 51
Olympic Hills 41 34 21 30
Olympic View 27 56 32 29
Queen Anne 28 57 28 22
Rainier View 55 21 18 26
Roxhill 56 13 53 57
Sacajawea 36 7 42 42
Sand Point 47 27 39 35
Sanislo 57 12 60 59
Stevens 32 29 35 31
Thornton Creek 18 17 41 38
Thurgood Marshall 5 39 8 18
Van Asselt 59 9 51 52
Viewlands 40 19 44 47
View Ridge 3 52 11 5
Wedgwood 11 41 7 14
West Seattle Elem 54 23 38 46
West Woodland 13 45 17 8
Whittier 4 60 22 27
Wing Luke 50 18 36 39
Schmitz Park 62 62 62 62

What jumps out most at me is that no particular school leads all the other schools consistently and it can make it challenging to decide what to prioritize when choosing a school.

Student/Teacher ratio

Each school reports the number of enrolled students and the number of teachers which I simply used to calculate a ratio.

Click on an attendance area for the exact percentage.

Attendance

I was initially interested in student attendance, but the elementary school with the lowest daily attendance was Lowell Elementary with an attendance rate of 89%. Every other school reported an attendance rate at or above 95% which did not make for a very interesting map. I later learned that Washington State has a compulsory attendance law which likely affected these numbers.

Reading proficiency

I was interested in looking at reading achievement scores district-wide for 3rd graders as measured by the Washington State proficiency test

Click on an attendance area for the exact percentage.

Math proficiency

Similarly, I looked at math achievement scores district-wide for 3rd graders as measured by the Washington State proficiency test

Click on an attendance area for the exact percentage.

Family engagement

SPS provides a parent survey with a variety of questions targeted at parent enthusiasm. The results of these surveys are not published but instead we can just look at how many families complete these surveys.

Click on an attendance area for the exact percentage.

The highest school reported that only 49.1% of families responded to the survey which to me means that most of the families are satisified with the school but not too excited or disappointed by their school.

tl;dr Choosing a school is hard but ultimately it comes down to how satisfied the parents or guardians are with the school. Schools report on a wide array of metrics about student performance, but student performance is often an issue of secondary importance when compared to parents’ overall perception of the quality of a school.