Wednesday, October 1, 2008

[LCSD] Question

Since I don't play by the Palin Rules, I think this is fair game. In an LE story out this week about math scores in the LCSD (short version: K-8 is great, HS is terrible, and Sand Ridge isn't doing so hot, coming in 4% below LHS in regards to the number of 10th-graders who are passing the state test), PIE Business Manager Mary Northern said this:

“Sand Ridge is another choice for parents,” Northern said. “We're not just about grades. If parents are happy, and if kids are happy, that's what is important.”

First, the apparently-obligatory caveat: This is not intended as an attack on Mary Northern, the person. This is a critique of a statement she made in public. Like it or not, she is publicly representing PIE here.

That said, the question I had immediately upon reading the above: Do the parents of Sand Ridge students agree with the statements made by Northern here? As well, do the supporters of PIE and Sand Ridge who do not have children at a PIE school agree?

Here's why I ask: This statement reads to me as a way of moving the conversation away from the fact that the Sand Ridge math scores at the 10th-grade level are even worse than those of LHS, and I would think that a lot of the Sand Ridge supporters who have been talking about the quality of education at Sand Ridge would be interested in knowing why these math scores are so low.

The rest of the quote interests me as well. I like the fact that Northern is talking about more than grades. This is good (if strange, since the story was about state assessment scores, which are not grades). However, I am little leery of what she uses as an example that's not grades: Happy parents and happy students. There are two reasons:

1) Happy parents does not automatically equal well-educated students. In an ideal world, yes, it would - but we're not there. So I'm left wondering what that statement means (besides being a dig at the LCSD, of course). Heck, I would argue that in some cases, unhappy parents are good, because unhappy parents - as the current math situation at LHS is demonstrating - are usually not complacent parents, and are therefore paying attention and getting involved.

2) Happy students. This is interesting to me because in the one day I subbed at Sand Ridge, I spent quite a bit of time listening to HS-age students complain about how unhappy they were with the administration. I'm not saying the situation hasn't changed, or that all students were unhappy, but that the reality I saw then is not what Northern is describing. I should also note that the complaints I heard from students were quite legitimate: There were unwritten rules, they could never talk to the Principal (I assume this has changed), and that they couldn't get transcripts, even as juniors and seniors, so they were having trouble applying to college. (This point is sort of moot, course, since PIE will have no HS students this year. But it may still be relevant insofar as younger students are concerned.)

The other reason that statement is interesting to me is that what makes students happy is often less work to do. Again, I am sure there are students for whom this is not the case. However....

Anyone who supports PIE and/or has a child at Sand Ridge want to weigh in? Are the low OAKS scores a concern of yours? Why or why not?

P.S. The less-than-charitable response I had to Northern's comment was something like "Are you f***ing kidding me? That makes it sound like you don't care about grades or achievement, but just about making people happy so they stay. Doesn't that run up against everything else Sand Ridge supporters say about the quality of education offered?"


Anonymous said...

The State doesn't think that is all that is important either.

Anonymous said...

Why is PIE's web site suspended?

Dennis said...

Good question, Anon @ 11:04 PM. The usual response is that they neglected to renew their registration/pay their bill. It's also possible that they took it down themselves for some reason. I don't really know.

Dennis said...

... I just noticed the URL for the page that comes up for the "contract us directly" link is

"Past due splash" does suggest something.

Erin said...

You are correct that neither happy students nor happy parents are indicative of a successful program, however, they can be important indicators. Moreover, if a student (or parent) is unhappy with the educational experience, they often lack the incentive to continue on a successful path.

I cannot speak to Sand Ridge directly, but during my time in the Lebanon school system, I was often bored by the instruction, especially during the later years when teachers began teaching to the state tests. I was a very successful student on paper, but felt unprepared during my first year of college. I would have greatly preferred less emphasis on the irrelevant tests and more instruction on, dare I say, interesting topics.

Dennis said...

Erin: Me too - not so much teaching to the test, but the bit about more interesting topics.

Erin said...

Dennis, I have a couple of questions for you:

1. What do you consider to be a successful program?

2. Are these test scores an accurate measure of said program? If they are any indicator, how much weight should be placed on metric? What other metrics should be used?

Now, I can't answer the first question myself, but as for the second, I place very little value in standardized tests. A 10% -- 20% difference between schools is meaningless. I would much rather ask about retention rates; the percentage of students who graduated with a vocational certificate, associates, bachelors, or completed higher education; and if the students are happy with their educational experience both during and several years after graduation. These are much harder questions to ask though.

Dennis said...

I think the first question is near-impossible to answer, but I'd include the following: Testable outcomes, qualitative data on student and parent happiness during and for at least five years afterwards (acknowledging that this is indeed almost impossible to get), future educational experience, and something that gets at how successful one is at making money/holding down a job.

None of these alone are good enough. I'm not even sure they are good enough all together. But I have nothing else at the moment.

I place little value in standardized tests as well. Sometimes it's hard to connect the test score with the educational program in a meaningful way.

I'm certainly not an expert on education, however.

Anonymous said...

RE: PIE's website. Could be that it was run by a volunteer (that is the foundation of the school) that needed someone else to take it over. Could be too, that one of the upper grade classes is taking it over and working on / learning about websites and will be making a new one. Guess a person could always call the school and find out instead of making assumptions.

Dennis said...

As a rule, I'm not very free during normal business hours. As well, anyone can call the school - including all the anonymous commenters on this blog.

I think it would be neat if students were working on the webpage. However, two things: 1) It doesn't need to be taken down to do that, and 2) the URL of the screen that comes up is suggestive. Not definitive, but suggestive.

I think you're mistaking my guesses for assumptions. I know I don't really know why the website is down; that's what makes them guesses. If I was assuming I would just say "oh, they failed to pay their bill" and move on.

Anonymous said...

To Dennis and Erin,
The problem with not teaching to the tests is that then the tests are failed.
The District is sanctioned and everyone's focus is even more on the tests.
That takes time away from things that are more interesting.
It is an imperfect system replacing an imperfect system.
It is like the speed limits going up and down based on statistics.
What would you two suggest happen at the State and Federal levels to address this? (The District HAS to work within those speed limit parameters.)

Dennis said...

Anon @ 12:24 PM - I agree with you about the reality of the situation. I'm trying to be a little idealistic here =)

I would start by repealing NCLB.

Anonymous said...

I find no problem with teaching to the test. If you are testing what needs to be known and the test is not multiple choice. If the test reflects the content of the course why is that a problem? There are after all many important dates in US history and if you decide to teach about US history just not these events you are not teaching the required material. Imagine a history course with no mention of the civil war, emancipation, or civil rights. Should we not test to make sure certain subjects are covered and therefore are we not teaching to the test? I think that particular argument is silly at best. The problem with multiple choice tests are that they are rarely well-written. Most often you can eliminate several answers without any particular knowledge of the subject. And even if well-written there is still the possibility of guessing without knowledge of the subject.
All subjects have required content and a teacher that does not teach that content is not doing their job properly. Teachers need to be held accountable to this by their administrator. Then complaints about movie showers, computer watchers, and other issues do not occur. It is how you teach that content which allows a teacher to be creative.

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