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    Following are preferred styles and correct usages for written material at Seattle Public Schools. While many style guides exist, Communications generally conforms to AP Style because this is most commonly used by media.

    For items not covered in this district style guide, refer to The AP Stylebook and Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Questions about style and usage may be addressed to the Communications staff. Also note that Communications is working on revised Branding Guidelines that will address issues such as logo usage, document formatting, email signatures, etc.

    A few reminders about common areas of confusion:

    • Check capitalization rules (see below) for words that may be capitalized unnecessarily: kindergarten, district, winter, etc.
    • Only a single space is necessary between sentences. Most style guides have eliminated the double space "rule" with the advent of computer-based word processing.
    • Avoid the ordinal indicator in dates: Jan. 1 -- not Jan. 1st
    • Avoid underlining for emphasis or any other purpose. Readers equate underlined words with hyperlinks. Use bold type or other approaches instead.

    acronyms – Avoid them whenever possible. Do not assume families or even district employees understand acronyms. Exceptions, such as SAT, can be found in the AP Stylebook. 

    Advanced Learning Office

    ages  — Always use figures for people and animals, but not for inanimate objects. The girl is 15 years old: the law is eight years old. 

    • When the context does not require years or years old, the figure is presumed to be years.
    • Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun. Examples: A 5-year-old boy, but the boy is 5 years old. The boy, 7, has a sister, 10. 
    • No apostrophes in: The woman is in her 30s.

    after- — Follow after with a hyphen when it is used to form compound modifiers.
    Choir is an after-school program. Choir is taught after school. 
    Baseball is an after-hours activity. Baseball is played after hours.

    Amharic – Official working language of Ethiopia and the second-most spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic

    Amplify/SPS interims – The preferred way to reference to the Amplify mClass Beacon system of interim and formative assessments that the district began using in a little more than half of schools in the 2014-15 school year. Amplify is the name of the vendor.

    a.m., p.m. — Lowercase with periods, no spaces. But a space is required after the numeral.

    • Avoid the redundant 10:30 a.m. this morning.
    • Omit 0 after colon if there are no minutes: 10 a.m., 7 p.m.
    • Omit the first a.m. or p.m. if the time falls in the same range: 6-9 a.m., 7-11 p.m.
    • Use to if the time falls in different ranges: The conference is scheduled from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
    • Exception: AM-K (for a.m. kindergarten) or PM-K (for p.m. kindergarten)

    APP, AP  — APP is not AP.

    • APP, or the Accelerated Progress Program, is the former name of an Advanced Learning service. As of August 2014, the program’s name was changed to the Highly Capable Cohort (for students who test as Highly Capable, making them eligible for Highly Capable Services). The Highly Capable Cohort is the service that provides self-contained advanced classes at a limited number of schools. 
    • AP is Advanced Placement and refers to courses – e.g. AP English, AP Chemistry, AP Latin. AP courses are offered at virtually every high school.  

    Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science – A bachelor’s degree or bachelor’s is acceptable in any reference.
    BEX/Building Excellence – always spell out on the first use when referring to our building levies. Include levy number when referring to a specific levy: Building Excellence IV (BEX IV) or BEX IV.

    biannually, biennially, semiannually – Biannually is an event that occurs twice a year and is a synonym for semiannually. Biennially is an event that occurs every two years.

    bimonthly, semimonthly – Bimonthly is an event that occurs every other month. Semimonthly is an event that occurs twice a month. 

    biweekly, semiweekly – Biweekly is an event that occurs once every other week. Semiweekly is an event that occurs twice a week.

    board – Do not capitalize when the word is used alone on second reference for Seattle School Board: the board. But note that School Board should be capped when referring to the Seattle School Board specifically (following AP’s rules for City Councils rather than boards). Last night, the School Board voted to …

    Director – Our School Board directors like to be referred to as Director Lastname on second reference. At the meeting, Director Blanford proposed

    Broadview-Thomson K-8 School — Note hyphen and no “p” in Thomson.

    BTA/Buildings, Technology and Academics (sometimes Buildings, Technology and Athletics) – Note that “buildings” is plural. Spell out on first reference. Include the number when referring to a specific levy: Buildings, Technology and Academics IV (BTA IV).

    bus, buses  — These are transportation vehicles. The verb forms: bus, bused, busing

    buss, busses  — Another word for kiss. The verb forms: buss, bussed, bussing


    cancel, canceled, canceling, cancellation

    — In general, avoid unnecessary capitals. Lowercase the common noun elements of names in plural uses: the Democratic and Republican parties; Main and State streets; lakes Erie and Ontario.

    Catharine Blaine K-8 School — Note double “a,” single “e” in Catharine.


    child care  — Two words, no hyphen, in all uses, as per AP Style. She attends child care on Mondays. She attends a child care center.


    city —  Capitalize city if part of a proper name, an integral part of an official name, or a regularly used nickname: City of Seattle, Kansas City, New York City, Windy City. 

    • Lowercase elsewhere: city Arts Commission. 
    • Capitalize when part of a formal title before a name: City Attorney Peter Holmes
    • Lowercase when not part of the formal title: city Health Commissioner Frank Blas

    classes/courses/subjects — Lowercase general references to academic subjects, such as mathematics, biotechnology, choir, band but capitalize the language arts, such as English language arts, Spanish, Japanese, French. 

    • Capitalize subjects when they are used as references to specific SPS programs or departments: English Language Arts Scope and Sequence, Math assessment guidelines.
    • Capitalize if it is a specific course or followed by a numeral: Beginning Choir, English 1, Math II, Biology 2.

    College and Career Readiness Standards (Common Core) — As of September 2014, please use this to refer to the Common Core-based standards used within Seattle Public Schools. 

    • This phrasing was chosen so that it could eventually encompass Next Generation science standards and to emphasize the purpose of the Common Core standards. 
    • The name “Common Core” is seen as not descriptive enough for our families.
    • Note that Common Core standards cover English language arts (reading, writing, speaking, listening) and math only. 

    Colman – former district building, notice no e in the word.

    Common Core State Standards — Use College and Career Readiness Standards (Common Core) – see above – whenever practical and logical. 

    • Use simply the standards on second reference.
    • Do NOT use the acronym CCSS.

    days, dates — Capitalize them. Use the day of the week followed by the date whenever possible, BUT consider whether you really need to include the year. In most cases, the year will be obvious and unnecessary.

    • Always use Arabic figures without the st, nd, rd, or th.  They will meet on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
    • Abbreviate the longer months when used with a specific date, as specified by AP Style: Jan. 8, Feb. 9, Aug. 10, Sept. 11, Oct. 12, Nov. 13, Dec. 14
    • Do NOT abbreviate days, except when needed in tabular format: Sun, Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat (three letters without periods, to facilitate tabular composition)

    day care — Two words, no hyphen, in all uses, in keeping with AP Style. Parents provide free day care after school hours. He attends a day care center in the Beacon Hill area.

    daylight-saving time  — Not savings. Note the hyphen. Lowercase daylight-saving time in all uses and daylight time when it stands alone.


    dean’s list  — Lowercase in all uses: He is on the dean’s list. She is a dean’s list student.

    departments – Capitalize the department or program name on all references. The Advanced Learning Office is down the hall. Cashel Toner leads Early Learning.

    Director – Our School Board directors like to be referred to as Director Lastname on second reference. At the meeting, Director Blanford proposed …

    district  — Do not capitalize in second reference when referring to Seattle Public Schools: the school district, the district. The word district is descriptive only and not part of the formal name Seattle Public Schools.

    districtwide — Lowercase, no hyphen. Seattle Public Schools is giving out laptops districtwide.

    dropout (noun), drop out (verb)

    Early Enrollment – the time period between the beginning of December and the end of January when new students can enroll for the following school year and receive assignment letters before Open Enrollment for School Choice.

    Eagle Staff – two words, when used in school name

     — Lowercase, no hyphen. Short form for electronic mail.

    enroll, enrolled, enrolling

    ensure, insure, assureensure means to guarantee: Steps were taken to ensure accuracy. Use insure to refer to insurance: This policy will insure your car. Use assure to give confidence: I assure you this is the latest copy. 

    flier, flyer Flier is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill: The organization wanted to distribute a flier at five schools. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses. He took The Western Flyer for his return trip.

    full- — Follow full with a hyphen when it is used to form compound modifiers.

    • She attends full-day kindergarten. She attends kindergarten full day.
    • He is a full-time teacher. He teaches school full time.

    grade, grader — Spell out most grades: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, BUT use numerals for the final three as per AP Style: 10th, 11th, 12th.

    • Hyphenate both the noun forms (first-grader, second-grader, 12th-grader) and the adjectival forms (a fourth-grade student, a 10th-grade pupil).
    • Use numerals for the grade number if it follows the word “grade,” and lowercase the word: grade 1, grades 6-8, grades K-2. Note: This runs counter to AP Style. AP would spell out numerals under 10, even for grade levels.

    half- — Follow half with a hyphen when it is used to form compound modifiers.
    She attends half-day kindergarten. She attends kindergarten half day.
    He is a half-time art teacher. He teaches art half time.

    • Some words without hyphens: halfback, halftone, halfhearted, halftrack
    • Some word combinations without hyphens: half brother, half dollar, half size, half tide
    • Some words that include hyphens: half-baked, half-hour, half-truth

    half-staff, half-mast — Flags are flown at half-staff. Elsewhere on ships and ashore, flags are flown at half-mast.



    harass, harassment


    Highly Capable — In August 2014, APP (Accelerated Progress Program) was renamed Highly Capable Cohort (for students who test as Highly Capable, making them eligible for Highly Capable Services). The Highly Capable Cohort is the service that provides self-contained advanced classes at a limited number of schools.

    • Until the end of the 2014-15 school year, the district referred to the cohort as Highly Capable Cohort (formerly APP). After the 2014-15 school year, (formerly APP) was dropped, but some families and staff may need a reminder if they use the old name.
    • Note that students may test as Highly Capable and become eligible for Highly Capable Services without choosing to enroll in the Highly Capable Cohort.

    home page  — Lower case and two words. The primary landing page for a particular website. Our district website’s home page is

    Indigenous Peoples Day  — No apostrophe.

    Internet  — Capitalize. The Net is acceptable


    John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence — Seattle Public Schools’ headquarters. Also known as the John Stanford Center or JSCEE building.

    kindergarten — Lowercase and spell out. Exceptions for these uses: K-12, half-day K, full-day K, PreK, PreK-5.

    kindergartner – Both AP and the major dictionaries prefer this spelling over kindergartener, which is listed as a “variant.” Neither spelling is technically “wrong.”

    levy or levies – use lower case when making general reference. Capitalize when part of a levy name: Building Excellence (BEX) Capital Levy; Buildings, Technology and Academics Capital Levies; Operations Levy.
    Use Levies 2016 when referring to both Capital and Operations levies that will be presented to voters in a given year.

    -long  — Use these forms: daylong, weeklong, yearlong

    long term, long-term — Hyphenate when used as a compound modifier: The decision will be important in the long term. The initiative has long-term effects.

    Martin Luther King Jr. Day — Federal holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., who was born Jan. 15, 1929, is on the third Monday in January. It was first celebrated in 1986. 

    Master of Arts, Master of Science — A master’s degree or master’s is acceptable in any reference.

    months — Spell out months: January, February, March 2014, etc. when used on their own or with a year only. Abbreviate longer months when used with a date, as per AP Style: Jan. 5, Aug. 14, 1986. See “dates” entry.

    multi- — In general, hyphenate if the next word begins with an i: multi-industry, multi-institutional, multi-integrated

    Otherwise, no hyphen: multiage, multiagency, multiarts, multiband, multicampus, multicell, multicolored, multicounty, multicourse, multicultural, multiday, multidimensional, multidiscipline, multidivision ,multidrug, multiethnic, multifamily, multifocal, multifrequency,  multigrade, multihandicapped, multilateral, multilevel, multiphase, multiproblem, multipurpose, multisite, multisport, multistep, multisystem, multitiered,  multitrack, multiunit, multiuse, multiyear.

    non- — generally, no hyphen is needed when forming a compound that does not have a special meaning: Some examples: nonacademic, nonaccredited,  nonathlete, nonattendance, nonbinding, noncertificated, nonclassroom, noncompliance, noncontinuous, noncontroversial, noncritical, nondurable, nonemergency, nonfiction, noninfectious, nonissue, nonresident, nonstudent, nontenured, nontoxic, nonunion

    Use a hyphen, however, before proper nouns or in awkward combinations: non-nuclear, non-Christian, non-English.

    numbers – As per AP Style, spell out zero through nine, then use numbers for 10 and up, in most cases. (Exceptions include ages, measurements, grade X, etc. See AP Stylebook for more.)

    ongoing — One word, no hyphen

    online — One word, no hyphen in all cases for the computer connection term.

    on site, on-site — Technicians will be on site to prevent glitches. There will be on-site tutors at the session.

    Open Enrollment  the time period (two weeks) in late winter when families can apply for school choice. It is the best time to apply to attend a school other than the attendance area school. Students must have a student number to apply for choice and therefore must first be registered. 

    Oromo —  language spoken by ethnic groups inhabiting Ethiopia, northern Kenya and parts of Somalia.

    part time, part-time — He teaches art part time. He is a part-time art teacher.

    percent — One word. Always use numerals. Do not use % unless used in tabular form.

    • The teacher said 9 percent of the class was failing. He said 60 percent of the students qualified for free lunch.
    • Repeat percent with each individual figure: He said 10 percent to 30 percent of the student body may not vote.

    Ph.D. — Using this with “Dr.” is redundant. Some correct usages: 

    Superintendent Larry Nyland, Ph.D.,
    Dr. Larry Nyland, Superintendent
    (Do NOT write Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland)

    phone numbers — Use this format: (206) 252-0020

    PIN — Personal Identification Number. Redundant to say PIN number.

    PowerSchool — Web-based student information system used by Seattle Public Schools. Tracks attendance, grades, and other student performances.

    pre- — In general, use a hyphen if the next word begins with e: pre-elementary, pre-election, pre-empt, pre-enrollment,  pre-establish, pre-existing.

    • Also hyphenate if the next word is capitalized: pre-Christian, pre-Christmas, pre-Columbian, pre-Hispanic (Exception is the abbreviated form of PreK, in which the K would be capitalized. But note that the spelled-out version of the word is all lowercase, no hyphen: prekindergarten.)
    • Otherwise, do not hyphenate: preacademic, preadmission, preapprove, preassign, precollege, preconvention, pregame, prehire, prekindergarten, preplan, prepublication, preregister, preregistration, preschool, preseason, prekindergarten, preuniveristy, prewar, prework.

    PreK  — short for prekindergarten because it works best in its most common usage: grades PreK-5; note capital P, capital K in the shortened form only

    principal — Capitalize as a formal title before or after an individual’s name but not as an occupational title by itself: Roosevelt High Principal Tom Jones announced that the school won the game last night. Darlene Smith, Principal at Eckstein Middle School, said school will remain closed today. The school’s principal declined to comment. [Capitalizing the title after a name is counter to AP Style but reflects district preferences.]

    protester — Not protestor

    race/ethnicity  use only when pertinent. Do not capitalize black or white. Others are capped: Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Caucasian, etc.
    African-American: Acceptable for an American black person of African descent. Also acceptable is black. The terms are not necessarily interchangeable. People from Caribbean nations, for example, generally refer to themselves as Caribbean-American. Follow a person's preference, if possible.

    school, schools — Capitalize when part of a proper name: Olympic View Elementary School, Nathan Hale High School.  

    • Lowercase on second references: The school closed because of the storm.  
    • Lowercase the common noun elements of names in plural uses: Olympic View and John Rogers elementary schools (not Olympic View and John Rogers Elementary Schools).

    school names  building names sometimes differ from school and/or program names. Be sure to clarify for families when necessary.
    Some examples:

    • John Stanford International is housed in the Latona School building
    • Hazel Wolf K-8 is housed in the John Marshall building and will be moved to the Pinehurst School building

    School Choice – the opportunity to attend a different school than an attendance area school. Applications for School Choice are accepted during Open Enrollment (see above).

    SEA – Please use this wording when describing the SEA: The Seattle Education Association is the organization representing teachers, instructional assistants and office professionals in Seattle Public Schools. 

    seasons  — Lowercase spring, summer, fall, winter: Construction will start in fall 2006. Orientation usually starts in the spring. Also, lowercase its derivatives, such as springtime, unless part of a formal name: Summer Olympics, annual Spring Fling celebration.

    Seattle Public Schools
    — Takes on a singular verb and is a collective noun. Seattle Public Schools has increased enrollment. Seattle Public Schools offers a good education. Seattle Public Schools provides a safe environment.

    Try to avoid using SPS on second references. Better to refer to Seattle Public Schools as the district on second references.

    Seattle School Board — Do not capitalize board on second references, as per AP Style. The board voted on a proposal to renovate the high school. But you may capitalize School Board (without Seattle) on second reference to our specific board, as per AP rules for City Council.

    Director – Our School Board directors like to be referred to as Director Lastname on second reference. At the meeting, Director Carr proposed …

    Seattle School District
    — Do not use. The name of the district is Seattle Public Schools, though you may use the district on second references.


    self- — Always hyphenate: self-assured, self-defense, self-government.

    semi- — In general, no hyphen: semifinal, semiofficial, semitropical. Hyphenate if the next word begins with an i: semi-invalid, semi-intoxicated.

    semiannual — Twice a year, a synonym for biannual. Do not confuse with biennial, which means every two years.

    sewage, sewerageSewage is the waste matter. Sewerage is the drainage system.

    Smarter Balanced
    — The name for the state-mandated assessments given in the spring in grades 3-8 and 11 (and 10 language arts). These replaced the Measurements of Student Progress and High School Proficiency Exam in spring of 2015. 

    • Use Smarter Balanced assessments, with “assessments” lowercase, following the style of the Smarter Balanced organization. 
    • Avoid Smarter Balanced Assessment, SBAC or Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. If you must use an acronym (and we recommend against it), use SBA.
    • Do not assume that families understand what “Smarter Balanced” means. It’s not a self-descriptive term. Provide a description in all communications.


    snowdrift, snowfall, snowflake, snowman, snowplow, snowshoe, snowstorm, snowsuit

    Social Security — Capitalize all references to the U.S. system. The number groups are hyphenated: 123-45-6789. Lowercase generic uses such as: Is there a social security program in Sweden?

    Somali — language spoken as a mother tongue by ethnic Somalis in Greater Somalia and the Somali diaspora. Official language of the federal Republic of Somalia and working language in the Somali region of Ethiopia.

    South Shore PreK-8


    Special Education  First and foremost, people with disabilities are people. They are diverse, contributing members of our communities. For this reason, we respectfully refer to them as person, student, or other title first and only then, if relevant, identify their disability. When communicating with families, please use phrase “students receiving special education services” to reference the students we serve. Avoid referencing students using the “SpEd” or “SPED” acronym, and refrain from using the phrase “SpEd students.” It is best, when speaking or writing, to avoid using the acronym “SpEd” altogether and say “Special Education.” Please also avoid referring to students or staff as a service placement (i.e. “SEL student” or “Access teacher”).

    staff  typically a singular noun: District staff is looking into the issue. But: Transportation staff members are researching new options.

    state — Lowercase in all "state of" constructions: the state of Washington, Washington state, the states of Oregon and California. 

    • Lowercase state when used as an adjective: state Representative Ruth Kagi, the state Board of Education, state funds, state Legislature.
    • Capitalize if part of a formal name: Washington State University, Washington State Department of Transportation.
    • Spell out the names of all states, even if used with a city name, as per revised AP Style: Bozeman, Montana.

    STEM – abbreviation standing for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Should always be capitalized: K-5 STEM at Boren; Cleveland STEM. Using this acronym is OK in family communications as long as they meaning of the term is explained at some point for families.

    Superintendent  — Always capitalize before and after a name, and use Superintendent as a courtesy title on second references: Superintendent Larry Nyland; Superintendent Nyland; Nyland, the Superintendent, told the audience … [This is counter to AP Style but reflects our district preferences.]

    Do not capitalize when used alone (see titles). The superintendent could not attend the board meeting.

    Tacoma Dome

    Tagalog – An Austronesian language with about 57 million speakers in the Philippines, particularly in Manila, central and southern parts of Luzon, and also on the islands of Lubang, Marinduque, and the northern and eastern parts of Mindoro.

    task force — two words. Not taskforce.

    teacher — lowercase. Serves primarily as an occupational description. The organization awarded teacher Sharon Johnson at prestigious award. Students said that Ben White, teacher at Lowell Elementary, supported environmental issues.

    teachers college — No apostrophe


    teen, teenager, teenage
     — No hyphen. Do not use teen-aged.

    theater, theatre
    — Use theater unless part of the proper name is Theatre: Ballard Theatre.

    Tigrigna — language spoken by ethnic Tigray-Tigrinya in the Horn of Africa

    time (see a.m., p.m. for clock time formatting) — Always use figures: 12 minutes, 8 seconds

    time elements
    — Use in the following order: time, day of week, month, date of week, year: 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2007.

    titles —  Capitalize titles before and after names [counter to AP Style to reflect district preferences], and spell out or abbreviate before names according to AP Style: board President Sharon Peaslee; U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert; Mayor Ed Murray; Principal Ted Howard; Michael Tolley, Assistant Superintendent.

    • Titles are lowercase when they are used alone. The superintendent will speak to the media on Monday.
    • Note that teacher is not a formal title and so is always lowercase.
    • On second reference, some district personnel may wish to be referred to as Title Lastname (e.g. Director Peters, Superintendent Nyland)

    under way, underway — Two words in virtually all uses: The project is under way.
    One word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla.

    Veterans Day — No apostrophes: Not Veteran’s Day or Veterans’ Day

    Vietnam — Not Viet Nam


    Web — Capitalize when used as the shortened reference to World Wide Web, with some exceptions. These follow AP Style:

    • webcam  — Lowercase
    • webcast  — Lowercase
    • webmaster  — Lowercase
    • Web feed
    • webpage  (counter to AP Style) 
    • website — one word, lowercase

    -wide — No hyphen. Some examples: citywide, districtwide, nationwide, schoolwide, statewide, worldwide. We are undergoing a schoolwide transformation. We are transforming education districtwide.

    wide- — Usually hyphenated. Some examples: wide-angled, wide-awake, wide-body, wide-open
    Exception: widespread

    Wilson-Pacific  include hyphen

    World Wide Web — Capitalize. The Web is acceptable.

    years — Use commas after the year only after a month and a day. The event will be held on Dec. 3, 2007, at the John Stanford Center. The meeting took place on September 2003 at the school’s auditorium (no comma after September).

    • Consider whether you really need to use the year at all. In references to recent or upcoming events, the year is almost always obvious and can be omitted.
    • Use an s without an apostrophe to indicate spans of decades or centuries: the 1800s, the 1980s.
    • Use this style for range of years: the 2006-07 school year.