The Soto Initiative – 3

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9 thoughts on “The Soto Initiative – 3”

  1. Here Ben is exposing what grading has done to ALL children. Not only does it kill interest and dreams, it creates more disparities. With it teachers get used and bullied to perpetuate a stratified society in which those with good grades feel good and go to good schools while others just say “school wasn’t meant for me”.

  2. Paul Kirschling

    Cher Ben,

    As I am one of those teachers in DPS I will take the bait. WTF are you talking about? Our district assessment is designed to see where a student is in terms of proficiency levels, to show degrees of progress in that regard or not from beginning to end of year. You list several bad practices and then somehow segue into repudiating the fantastic crew of CI teachers in Denver as guilty as charged. We do not seek to “blame the student”. As for the “Tommys”, there are only a handful that make little to no progress. That’s life. The same could be said about people on whatever path you place them – material, spiritual or emotional. Our students are not caricatures and they are not as incapable as you make them out to be.

    With love, Paul

  3. I love you too Paul. I do disagree, however, in the overall tenor of what you say. The teachers in DPS are no doubt fantastic and if I threw any mud their way that is the last thing I intended. But at the same time and I am very glad we are having this discussion, because it is my experience that there has always been a kind of assumption in ALL school districts that most of the kids want to do well and succeed and learn what they can, and it is on that weird and in my mind unfounded assumption that they base their myriad tests. But if the children don’t care, or care only in terms of the grade, then in my mind that just really skews any results on any tests so that in my opinion the tests just don’t provide accurate and true information in spite of the good will of all involved. I think that far too many kids in all districts and not just DPS are playing the system at all times. We don’t grade on memorization and so testing CI kids is a brand new ball game that in spite of all the money spent on developing tests is still an unproven area, in spite of the fantastic efforts made in DPS in this area, under Diana’s great leadership. In my view in order for test scores to really be accurate, the kids must really care, the way a basketball team needs to care if they are going to win games, and I don’t see that in any classrooms anywhere and I should perhaps not have singled out DPS. All I see in schools are just a whole bunch of fairly unmotivated kids who are largely playing the teacher. I may easily be wrong on this point but it is what I have seen throughout my career. If my view has any truth in it then it skews any data collected as a result of the testing. I have wanted to say this for a long time, and remember trying to say it at meetings but being dismissed. Oddly, very oddly, just yesterday I was thinking of the excellent listening comprehension test you and Sabrina made about three or four years ago. I remember that as I watched my kids take it I could tell that the time that I had spent with them on French and the test they saw there at the end of that year were out of sync, kind of missing each other, and perhaps I didn’t do enough CI and the test missed its mark for that reason and maybe that was only my perception in my school. And it could have been connected to the complex and intense lives of the kids at Lincoln in particular, which lives have certainly tempered any ardor to really acquire French. I’ll just come out and say it: it just seems to me that testing doesn’t work. That is how I see it based on my own long ride in our profession. Hug me anyway when our paths next cross. Of course I do not mean in any way to belittle the district that taught me much of what I know, the flagship district for CI instruction in the nation. I just wish I could find a way to assess kids in a true way, a really true way.

    With more love,


  4. Paul Kirschling

    Mon Frère,

    You are as beautiful as the sea is blue. You are right, we go in with assumptions good or bad, evidentiary based or less evidentiary based. I think the tests at this point are pretty decent in doing what they are meant to do – get a close to accurate read on their proficiency levels – discounting all the known unknowns, of course. 😉

    I experience the same thing you did every year – what I teach in class and the content of the test are not ideally aligned. I, too, live with the same feeling – it’s not measuring the extent of what they learned/acquired. And yes, there are questions here and there that rely on recognizing a single word for the rest of a passage to make sense. Not ideal or fair. But the test is not meant to be a be-all. Agreed, it would be nice to have the Saint Graal, but I am afraid it doesn’t exist and we may spend centuries in a Dan Brown novel looking for it.

    As for getting played… yes and no. Yes, lots of students play the game. But no, they are not all just b.s. -ing. I cannot speak to districts nation wide, but I will believe until the day I die that there IS a true desire to learn within each of them if we can just talk about the right things, continually show them we care and are good to them. Perhaps I just need to tell myself that to keep my enthusiasm in optimal marathon condition. J’en sais rien à la fin du conte.

    For the record, mon ami, I am never offended. You are a magnificent and colossal voice that every now and then hits a note that pulls my ears back. You play jazz, you riff, you rock you roll. Keep it comin’ brother.

    With yet more love, Paul

    1. So, it sounds like even in DPS it has been difficult to create a standardized listening and/or reading comprehension assessment for the first few years of study. Am I right? I would love to know, Paul, because, you know, we are banging our heads in our districts trying to create such assessments to appease our admin.

  5. Ben Slavic… Shame on you!!!
    Your blogs are read as “gospel” by so many teachers and I am offended by your “repudiation” . I suggest that you get a bit more experience with what the DPS PROFICIENCY assessments really mean to teachers, students admin and parents before you start throwing around words like “repudiate”. Paul challenged your ridiculous accusations very eloquently but I will not … The next time you criticize our assessments with false examples of students who took them… And philosophical dribble about these poor unmotivated students being assessed for unworthy purposes of assessment based on the current criticism of “generic assessment for all” … I will not be so kind.
    WE in this TPRS/CI world FINALLY have some data as to how our students have acquired language thanks to our best practice strategies that we have honed over the course of many, many years. I STAND BY the DPS Proficiency Assessments, the data we get about student acquisition aligned to proficiency, and how this data is unlike any other measure, including AP/IB.
    These assessments are given for only ONE reason…to inform the teacher how to BETTER teach their students. They are used to place students into the correct class; i.e. Middle school students who score intermediate and consequently are placed into upper levels in high school. Prior to these “repudiated DPS assessments” middle school students were placed into level 1.

    Ben… Seriously? I am so offended and want to believe that you are making these statements based on ignorance. Your last experience in DPS negatively affected your opinions.

    At iFLT … did I imagine that teachers needed a way to show administrators what their students could DO with the language? And in discussing our assessments in DPS…that you supported me?

    And now … Repudiation?


    1. No doubt you know Ben very well, Diana. It shows here.

      Ben, you know how to stir people up! But it sure doesn’t sound like Ben was “repudiating” all the teachers at DPS. In fact, it sounded like he was celebrating the DPS World Language department for their initiatives while challenging those WL teachers that don’t take part.

      I repudiate the teachers in Denver Public Schools who perpetuate the cycle even though they have a new model for instruction, which means that the assessment model we use must change as well

      Anyways, the radical candor being expressed here is provocative in a good way. It begs me to ask, Diana, if students are getting a grade for their performance on these standardized proficiency tests at the end of the year, that is, a grade that gets put in the Gradebook for their WL class? I’m pretty sure that Ben is saying he takes issue with giving kids a bad grade on their report card if they score low on the proficiency test.

      Oh, and do we take Ben’s blog as gospel or are we just teachers trying to do right by kids and find Ben’s blog an extraordinary community, unmatched in the field of education, to engage, challenge, and love each other in our attempts to do right by kids. Funny, my wife does crack jokes from time to time saying, “Sean, you need time with your cult?”

      I can take it. I have a sense of humor. But you have to know that people are hurting out here. Last year we had another mental breakdown with a beginning Spanish teacher at my school. This is not uncommon.

      1. Diana’s post made me think about the kind of leader Ben is. We are not just followers and Ben our leader. It’s not like that. Yes, Ben leads the community but in the spirit of trying to work through questions of genuine concern by sharing them with people who listen and care, not by pushing some agenda or pushing his own ego. I believe your agenda, Ben, is truly nothing more than finding an easier way to teach a second language, as the title of your book says. Easy to teach and easy to learn: where we go home feeling good about the connections we made with our students every darn day.

  6. Well, if you can’t take the subjectivity out of using jGR/ISR then neither can you take the subjectivity out of grading those interactive skills as described by IB (Interna Bacch). In fact, IB is more vague in their descriptors of what they call interactive skills (as opposed to the other two skills they call receptive skills and productive skills… funny how they sound a lot like ACTFL’s modes of communication, just branded in different terms) than in our descriptors for jGR/ISR.

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