Elementary and middle schools in the area are making big improvements in math.

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A recent Education Lab story about a big turnaround at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High attracted a lot of attention, with many people cheering the improvement at the long-struggling school.

Now, other data from the district holds more good news: Elementary and middle schools in the southeast are also catching up with  schools in other parts of the city.  In 2006, for example, the gap in the passing rates on state math tests was 29 percentage points between students in the southeast and those in the northeast.  In 2014, it was 18.

Reading scores haven’t gone up nearly as much — and district leaders say that’s always been a harder place to narrow gaps —  but the upward trend in math is strong.  That’s true not just for schools in southeast Seattle, but in the southwest, too.

The math gains are even stronger for students from low-income families.  Last year, low-income students from southeast elementary and middle schools led the city in passage rates on state math tests, compared with low-income students elsewhere.

What’s led to the improvement?  District leaders point to a number of efforts, some of which started around 2010.  They include   a relatively new approach to evaluating teachers and principals, plus a push to ensure all schools teach to the state’s learning goals.

“That is around the time when the district started to get serious about accountability,” said Eric Anderson, the district’s director of research, evaluation and assessment.

And many of those efforts, he said, started first in southeast schools.

Anderson and Clover Codd, executive director of strategic planning and partnerships, also credit the success at Mercer Middle on Beacon Hill with inspiring other schools.  One important hallmark: closely tracking student progress.

Now the district plans to identify 5-7 other schools where, like Mercer, academic performance outstrips similar schools in the city and state.  District staffers have already identified some candidates — including Rainier View and Wing Luke elementaries, which feed into Rainier Beach High. See slide 22 on this presentation.

Before the school year is out, a team of district staff members will visit each of the chosen schools, Anderson said, interviewing and surveying principals and teachers. They hope to identify commonalities that will help other schools move forward, too.

They also hope those positive outliers will inspire other schools, too —  and, Codd said,  “inspire us at the central office to think about the strategies we want to invest in.”

(Thanks to Communities & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, which recently highlighted some of this data in its blog, Parent Line.)