Student population: 720; Grades: 9–12; Principal: Mike Hawkins
Essex District High School is located in the town of Essex, which extends from the hub of the county at Essex Centre to the shores of Lake Erie. As part of the plan for student success in mathematics, the school mathematics team has developed a Grade 8 diagnostic assessment administered at feeder schools in January before courses are selected; it provides important information to both Grade 8 and Grade 9 teachers. Additionally, students who did not meet the standard in the Grades 3 and 6 EQAO assessments are paired with a caring adult and a peer mentor as part of the Grade 9 transition plan.
To be considered, schools had to have
Using the EQAO reporting application, the school accesses information over time that helps identify trends in areas of concern and strength. Grades 3 and 6 achievement data facilitate the early identification of students who may require different levels of intervention to move up to the achievement standard. Both attitudes and behaviour and achievement data are connected to staff’s use of learning-goals-based assessment and evaluation and planned retesting.
When it comes to learning mathematics, there are many measures of success. Not only do Essex teachers consider whether students have independently demonstrated learning on the Grades 3, 6 and 9 EQAO assessments, they also take a broader view of the continuum of mathematical learning. Planning for success in high school begins after the junior assessment, when intermediate teachers from feeder schools and high school meet to consider student learning needs and related teacher learning needs. Student success is gauged by students’ continuing mathematics learning throughout high school and students’ feeling equipped for their chosen pathway after they graduate.
Speaker — Mike Hawkins, Principal
Really excited about our improvement in our mathematics scores. For us here at Essex District High School, using the data over the years and from our previous years and our previous writers, as well as Grade 3, 6 and diagnostic testing that we do with our Grade 8 feeder schools, has given us a picture of the things that we need to do, year-by-year and over time, of skills and strands that we need to focus on with our students coming in to us. Being able to serve our students the best, so that they can be successful, not only in the Grade 9 assessment, but throughout their high school career in mathematics and beyond to their post-secondary destination.
One of the biggest items that helped us along the way is our Grade 8 diagnostic and being able to identify issues that students are having going from elementary school to their Grade 9 year, and being able to support them, not only to a pathway where we think they will be successful, but to a pathway in which they want to achieve the end goal of where they are going to be after they leave us here at Essex District High School to fulfill themselves in a career of their choosing.
At Essex, everything that is assessed or evaluated in mathematics is tied to learning goals. Descriptive feedback and reporting linked to learning goals show students their progress toward each goal. This enables students to reflect on and better articulate their individual learning needs. Reassessment opportunities tied to learning goals help to prevent students from shutting down and encourage them to continue learning instead.
So, about four years ago we implemented learning-goals-based assessment, where everything that’s assessed and evaluated throughout the unit is tied to a learning goal. So, within the classroom, learning goals were routinely visible, and self-evaluation of understanding of learning goals and success criteria was encouraged. Throughout the unit, we would do a variety of formative assessment, and when students were ready, we would have our evaluation. Even at that point, after all of the formative assessment and evaluation, some students still would find that they had not met the standard. So, rather than them just shutting down and forgetting about the concept, they were encouraged to continue the learning through coming in for extra help, or trying extra questions, or doing a variety of online resources, accessing those. Once they were done that and they felt that they were ready to demonstrate their understanding, we would allow them the opportunity to be reassessed on that learning goal. Really, that did encourage them to really keep trying and that helped us to promote growth mindset in our students.
Teachers help students reframe how they talk about mistakes and their personal learning; this helps students develop the perseverance they need to overcome difficulties. Teachers provide students with a variety of resources, strategies and ideas, and these, together with a growth mindset, move learning forward.
Speaker — Peter Phinney (Dept. Head of Mathematics)
One of the things we really try to focus on here at Essex High School is the idea of a growth mindset and recognizing that how a student views themselves, or what they think about themselves, really does have a huge effect on their success in math. For example, students might say that “I’m just not a good math student” or “I’m not good at math.” We try to reframe those thoughts for the kids. For example, instead of saying, “I’m not a good math student,” have them say, “Well, I haven’t had success at math in the past, so maybe I’ll try something differently” or “What do I need to do to be successful in the future?” So a big idea is kind of helping them kind of change their self-talk and the way they think about themselves.
We believe that every student can be successful given the right supports, the right effort, the right opportunities. And that, yes, some kids will get it a bit quicker than others, but that doesn’t mean that every student can’t have a high level of success in mathematics. One of the biggest things we try to focus on is the idea of making mistakes, and that we try to help the students to understand that, the very first time they try something, we don’t expect them to be good at it, and there will be mistakes and mistakes are a natural part of learning, and that we have to use those opportunities as learning opportunities. Research will show that when you make mistakes, that’s actually when your brain does the most growing—when it grows—because your mind is challenged. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, sometimes it can be frustrating, but if we can teach the kids to persevere through that, that’s when they can really ultimately experience the most growth and the most learning.
So, what we try to do is give them supports. Give them resources, give them strategies, give them ideas on what they can do when they do approach a situation where they have a mistake or where they are not sure what to do. Right? Show them how to try it again a different way, and ultimately if a student can work thought that and persevere through to the end, the confidence that is gained from that, and the knowledge that is gained from that just carries forward and grows and multiplies over time. And eventually students will start looking at questions instead of problems. They’ll say: “Yeah, I know this might be difficult, but I can do it. I’ve done it in the past; I have the strategies, and it’s going to be really exciting when I do get it.”
A lot of these kind of core beliefs that students have about themselves are something we’ve tried to focus on and help students reframe and develop that growth mindset.
School Profile and Results