Despite declining enrolment, this semestered school provides innovative and challenging programming for academic, applied, locally developed and school community classes from Grades 9 to 12. Since most of the 600 students are bused to this largely rural school, supports and extracurricular activities are available during the school day.
Over time, with purposeful curriculum leadership, Ernestown’s teachers have come to appreciate the impact of data on classroom practice, the development of their school improvement plan and, in particular, the setting of instructional goals in the mathematics department. Student success is the ultimate objective, and teachers see EQAO and other data as important tools to help them focus on and improve student achievement. As Principal Anne Otonicar states: “Use of data has to be a shared vision. Everyone has to be connected to the data and understand it. Then data can have an impact on the classroom.”
Recently for example, while zeroing in on EQAO’s Profile of Strengths and Areas for Improvement report, teachers discovered a significant deficit in number sense and algebra among students in applied math. This knowledge spurred the math team to delve further into the essential foundational math skills among this population, resulting in new ways to improve student achievement.
Among the math department’s many successful strategies is its participation in the board’s electronic 1P Network, in which teachers from several schools share EQAO resources, activities and units of study that are based on the Grade 9 math curriculum. For example, embedded in the network program are EQAO multiple-choice and open-response sample questions for staff to access and integrate into their lessons. The staff can use them to evaluate and provide timely feedback to students. Collaborating through the network, teachers have become intentional in their use of EQAO resources, and as Principal Otonicar puts it: “EQAO is totally embedded in everything we do in the classroom. It’s about building students’ confidence with the curriculum.”
Much of the confidence displayed by Ernestown’s students, and borne out in EQAO data, originates from the board’s initiative to implement Marian Small’s “Big Ideas,” which allow staff to focus on teaching through problem solving, open-ended questions and consistent practice in higher-level thinking. Additionally, using EQAO scoring guides and rubrics, staff explicitly teach students how to code their work, self-evaluate, determine next steps and employ “bump up” strategies to improve their responses. Student and teacher work together, building skills, confidence and an understanding of the shared goals posted in every classroom. Strategies such as these underpin Ernestown’s successful assessment and professional development practices, which are closely tied to the school improvement plan. According to Principal Otonicar: “Use of data is about better instruction through strong assessment practices, targeted strategies and about being reflective as a staff. Reflecting on our data on a regular basis has had a huge impact on student achievement. What we are doing in the classroom is a direct result of reflecting on the data.”
“Use of data is about better instruction through strong assessment practices, targeted strategies and about being reflective as a staff. Reflecting on our data on a regular basis has had a huge impact on student achievement. What we are doing in the classroom is a direct result of reflecting on the data.”
—Anne Otonicar, Principal
“Use of data has to be a shared vision. Everyone has to be connected to the data and understand it. Then data can have an impact on the classroom.”
Data also identify students in at-risk situations, and the Student Success Team reviews referrals weekly and immediately puts supports in place through the Providing Academic Support for Success (PASS) program. The PASS program ensures missed assignments, lessons or concepts are addressed and followed up on. Close collaboration ensures there are no surprises at mid-term. All students, but particularly students with special needs, are followed closely, and staff are guided by Ernestown’s Student Success Pyramid of Intervention model. Indeed, teachers begin to follow students prior to their entry into Grade 9, with math teachers sharing data and strategies with their elementary counterparts, engaging in reciprocal classroom visitations and organizing a well-attended Grade 9 parents’ night in the first semester.
A strength of the mathematics department is having experienced, enthusiastic math professionals teach the Grade 9 programs and mentor new teachers in their design-down planning process involving effective feedback and rich formative and summative assessment tasks. Further keys to student success are the use of educational assistants in each applied program, careful implementation of accommodations on IEPs and a school-wide values education program called SOAR (self-discipline, optimism, action and respect). Student engagement data from a “Tell Them from Me” survey further assist the school in establishing transparent, school-wide programs that ultimately affect attendance policies and school procedures. For example, survey feedback and the corresponding follow-up allow staff to maximize instructional time. As well, the scheduling of academic and applied classes simultaneously allows the appropriate program placement of students during the semester.
Parents play a key role in any successful school, and Ernestown is no exception. In addition to consulting on the school improvement plan and informing parents about EQAO, the school council makes an important financial contribution to student learning by supporting the purchase of Smart Boards, graphing calculators and Kobo readers for classrooms.
Use of data in conjunction with a wide variety of strategies and the availability of the technology such as netbooks, computer labs and personal laptops with Smart software not only expand teacher practice, they also have a far-reaching positive impact on student learning at Ernestown.
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School