November 3, 2009

A defense of SLA?

Marcie Hull, SLA's tech coordinator, commented on my posts on SLA. It's a serious comment and deserves a serious answer. (I've taken the liberty to clean up Marcie's lengthy comment which which was  typed on an iPhone.)

Numbers... Seems to me a silly tradition to measure a persons abilities. Why not watch them or give them excellent mentors, while listening to them and being sincerely interested in what they are saying.

In this case the numbers are percentile scores for the number of students who fall into each of the four proficiency categories on Pennsylvania's simplistic state assessment. So, in this case the numbers represent objective data on student performance. What's wrong with objective data? (Dick Shutz's objections notwithstanding which I acknowledge.)

The purpose of my post was to show the problem with the numbers which showed that all SLA 11th graders were proficient or above in writing. The actual student writing samples told a very different story. I also notice that you did not defend the quality of the students' writing. That is telling.

Numbers also seem to be a way to keep out students with many different learning styles, therefore keeping the old elite system in a safe place, far away from creativity.

Actually, I think that SLA's selective admission system does the bulk of the work of keeping out "students with many different learning styles" and keeping the elite system in place. Not that there's anything wrong with providing appropriate opportunities for the academically meritorious students.

Knowing the rules to break the rules is an old idea. We need more rule breakers if we want to see quick change.

If we want more rule breakers, then it follows that we want more people who know the rules in the first place according to your own argument. Did the SLA student writers know the rules of grammar, usage, and argumentation? Are they in a position to break the rules even though they haven't learned them yet? It appears that SLA isn't providing the world with more rule breakers, juts people who don't know the rules.

You are right schools need to change. We are attempting that change, 3 years is a very short time to be judged upon. Come see us in 5.

Schools don't need just change; schools need effective change. And, caring is overrated. What these kids really need is effective teaching. So, is the teaching at SLA effective? Not based on the examples of student learning that I've seen so far. We'll see in two more years.

Better yet come to the school and see what caring for a student can do for their academic success.

That's such a 20th century mindset. I made a 21st century visit. Isn't that what it's supposed to be all about?

And isn't that the way s brain works if your needs are met you are able to intellectualize? Look at Maslow, that is what I follow.

Yes, let's look at Maslow the man; the pyramid, not so much.

Sir, don't you see enough negativity in this world of education why would you pick out our community that strives for rigor and happiness?

Because Chris posted (and good for him for doing so) these examples of student work and asked for constructive criticism. Transparency is a 21st  century virtue. Although, quite honesty I don't think SLA is quite ready yet for 21st  century transparency.

What is it that you are expecting from a brand new school?

At a minimum to live up to the things it claims to be doing in its family Handbook. Is it OK to expect less?

What was your school like? Did it compare to your standards or did you make your own?

My high school was a traditional high school with all the faults and problems of traditional education. Sadly, I do not believe that SLA has improved on the failings of the traditional model. The "changes" SLA has made are superficial with respect to student learning, like many reform models that have preceded it.

I came out of one of the best high schools in the country in 1991. What scares me, even with all the money in that district not all learners were given equal opportunities to learn. They were tracked low and forgotten about and all the concentration was put on the students that could score high in math & science. Some of them are still living in their parents basements.

Agreed. This is a problem. But is the problem the high school's for not being able to deal with under-prepared students or the elementary and middle schools that under-prepared them? And, let's just limit the discussion to the mountain of kids at the margin who came to school on a regular basis and who do not possess a cognitive impairment.

So, I ask you what do these numbers mean? What do they mean to parents? What do they mean in higher education?

The numbers mean that Pennsylvania has set the bar way too low. Proficient students under Pennsylvania's standard apparently lack many skills foundational to writing ability.

Parents should be aware of this problem.

The numbers are also not reliable indicators that these students are ready for the workload inherent in most institutions of higher education. Higher education has been foreclosed to many of these students. Sadly, they don't know this yet.

Also, what kind of conversation or dialog do you want to get into with the staff at SLA? What is your purpose for reporting this? Anyone can cause a conflict.

The real conversation you need to be having is with your students, not with me. I'm just shining the light on the problem. No one from SLA or elsewhere has defended SLA on the merits yet. I have heard some excuse making. Your arguments seems to be that good intentions are good enough. I reject that opinion out of hand.

I would rather talk about solutions, kids & alternative types of instruction so that all student can feel success.

There isn't a single solution listed in your comment.

And what good is feeling success? Isn't it more important to be a success?

We are an easy target, seems to me you are upset about something and you are hiding behind this blog post instead of just writing your beef. Where's the beef?

Chris asked for comments. I provided comments. You don't seem to agree with my comments, but you aren't exactly defending the students' work either. Take a position and defend it with supporting evidence. Making vague excuses and offering unsupported opinion is not a position.


I think I finally figured out why SLA students weren't able to write a position paper?


Anonymous said...

A comment for Marcie: the SLA students do seem to be fluent writers (i.e. they can come up with extended comments that convey their opinions as to what type of educational practices they favor). But, they don't support their opinions with any sort of evidence. Given that they're at least somewhat fluent, why are they not being taught to support their arguments with evidence? why don't they understand that asserting that something is valuable is not the same thing as demonstrating that it's valuable?

Tracy W said...

This raises a question for people calling for critical thinking - if schools haven't been teaching critical thinking in the past, and schools should be teaching critical thinking, how can schools find sufficient critical thinkers necessary to teach it? (Many teachers are already good at teaching critical thinking, I can think of several examples from my own schooling, the problem is populating every school in the country).

Scripting lessons seems more and more attractive.

Joanne Jacobs said...

I agree with you: If this is what Pennsylvania considers proficient writing, the bar is way too low. These students are not prepared to write college papers.

Marcie Hall's defense of her school is undercut by numerous punctuation errors. I hope this is just sloppiness.