Friday, August 15, 2008

Evaluating the effectiveness of Small Learning Communities

For the past couple of years, McCaskey High School has been trying something new with its students.

Call it an experiment, if you will.

It's called "Small Learning Communities (SLCs)." Information provided explains SLCs "contain students and staff who stay together over a period of time and focus on a particular focus or theme."

"While all students take the same core curriculum, the electives that are offered and the projects that are assigned in an SLC allow students to explore the theme with greater depth."

What kinds of themes? SLCs include Arts & Humanities, Health Sciences, Honors/International Baccalaureate, the McCaskey Institute of Technology, Media Studies & Communications, Public Leadership & Service, and Technical & Business Careers.

Ninth grade students in the 2001-2002 school year were the first to participate in the program and 2004-2005 was the first school year that all high school students were directed to select an SLC.

The idea behind Small Learning Communities is that they are a way of more closely tailoring the school's resources towards each student's individual needs.

On Thursday, the Education Committee of the School District of Lancaster (SDL) School Board listened to a presentation by Dr. Berwood Yost of Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Opinion Research on the impact of SLCs.

"In each year since the program has been fully deployed, the proportion of students who met state reading and math standards has increased," Yost writes in his analysis. "PSSA scores have risen from 28% proficient in reading and 21% proficient in math prior to the introduction of the SLC program to 45% proficient in reading and 40% proficient in math during the 2006-2008 school year."

But other factors have seemingly remained resistant to change.

For example, Yost's report also concluded that "there has been little change in attendance rates since the introduction of the SLC program."

In fact, the Honors/International SLC is the only group with attendance rates above 90%. In the areas of both attendance and occurrence of suspensions, the introduction of SLC's seems to have had little impact at all.
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There are also differences among demographic groups worth noting. The division between male and female by SLC is the most significant, Yost says.

The "Institute of Technology" SLC has the highest proportion of males (76%) while the "Health Sciences" SLC has the lowest proportion of males (12%) as of 2008, according to the data provided by SDL.

By ethnicity, the Media Studies SLC seems to have a higher proportion of African-Americans (45%) while the Honors SLC has the largest proportion of White and Asian students as of 2008.

The Board members seemed cautiously optimistic about the results of the study and reiterated the need for further study.

"I feel more confident," said Dr. Nenita Faller-Miller, who chairs the Education Committee. "At least now I know where we [stand]."