Mother Teresa Catholic School in Kingston is a vibrant, positive and nurturing school community that challenges students to grow academically, spiritually and socially. The school consistently acts on its mission statement: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Beyond their personal commitment to excellence, teachers at Mother Teresa reach out to the larger community to ensure and sustain student learning. Parent volunteers, for example, as well as students from Queen’s University’s faculty of education, St. Lawrence College and Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School are trained and valued as part of a highly focused team that assists teachers in delivering appropriate individualized instruction. To the same end, the Tutors in the Classroom and the Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership tutoring programs provide additional human resources, as do local community agencies.
Although most of the 293 students in this largely homogeneous English-speaking community enter kindergarten with an understanding of print and a plethora of rich learning experiences, teachers make no assumptions, but rather rely on EQAO and other data to assess individual instructional needs. Cognizant that early intervention is crucial to future student learning, teachers respond promptly to Balanced Literacy Assessment Measures and Professional Resources and Instruction for Mathematics Educators (PRIME) data, adjusting instructional practices, offering support and tracking progress. Welcoming the diversity that an on-site daycare, a cluster of military families and new admissions bring, the school’s experienced teaching team makes relationship building a priority.
“Data is what helps us decide the direction we should take and the changes we want to make. It’s very integral to our school improvement plan.”
—Susan Conway Williamson, Principal
“First of all, get to know your population, and build that profile of your students based on data. Then very intentionally plan. Data is what helps us decide the direction we should take and the changes we want to make. It’s very integral to our school improvement plan,” says Principal Susan Conway Williamson. Indeed, over time, the teachers at Mother Teresa have come to appreciate EQAO data as a powerful instructional tool that allows sharper focus on student strengths and skills and provides a basis for the school improvement plan. While continuing to use EQAO data to track general trends to gain a global perspective of student progress, staff members are currently employing EQAO and other data to personalize and individualize student programming.
“If there is anything we’ve learned, it is about the importance of pre-assessment and diagnostic assessment,” says Principal Conway Williamson. “Use of data has allowed us to individualize our instruction. We would be lost without the data. It helps us to be really focused.” By using the Sound Skills Screener, for instance, kindergarten teachers target students for direct instruction. The progress of kindergarten to Grade 3 students is recorded on a tracking board and reviewed regularly. Also, Grade 1 teachers record PM Benchmarks data on spreadsheets, target students not making significant progress and provide assistance through an early reading intervention program. And likewise, Grades 4 to 8 teachers use EQAO and CASI data to pinpoint students who are at risk. Then through explicit teaching and the Remediation Plus withdrawal program, teachers focus on basic literacy skills, thus enabling students to engage successfully in higher-level thinking and comprehension inquiries.
“We come back to EQAO data several times during the year,” says Principal Conway Williamson. “It’s one of the touchstones.” Recently, a discrepancy between student performance on EQAO multiple-choice and open-response questions in mathematics led teachers to realize they needed to change their approach. They now encourage students to treat all questions as multi-step problems that require reasoning, estimation and deep thinking.
Students’ curriculum proficiency is rooted in Mother Teresa’s involvement in the board’s Collaborative Inquiry for Learning in Mathematics program. While the original intent was to change the way teachers taught mathematics, the benefits of the three-step problem-solving approach are still being felt school wide and across the curriculum. The motivational power of activities such as after-school math camps, sharing sessions and network inquiry groups is formidable. Correspondingly, the school’s increased use of technology allows students with special education needs to access the curriculum.
Building on the board’s core instructional strategies— accountable talk; precise, timely descriptive feedback; guided practice and rich, relevant tasks—teachers work collaboratively to determine student achievement levels and share ideas during instructional planning times. As well, teachers find the PRIME assessment tool facilitates data collection on a student’s mathematical understanding and helps pair like-minded mathematical thinkers. Teachers at Mother Teresa are continuously evolving, researching, questioning and ultimately rendering self-reflection as an integral part of the school’s assessment processes. With job-embedded, inquiry-based professional learning as the focus, teachers are currently applying mathematical problem-solving procedures in other subject areas, taking on leadership roles, mentoring, co-teaching and co- planning, deepening their own understanding and training students to specify and explain the strategies they use.
Another significant factor for success centres on the positive partnership Mother Teresa staff shares with the school council. The council updates parents on school policy and events, helps formulate goals for the school improvement plan, explains EQAO assessment practices, raises funds for new technology and special projects, and encourages parents to interact with the curriculum. Strong curriculum leadership, an unwavering focus on professional learning and instructional practice based on data, wise and focused budgetary decisions plus a commitment to social justice and action, both locally and globally, are hallmarks of this exceptional school.
“Use of data has allowed us to individualize our instruction. We would be lost without the data. It helps us to be really focused.”
—Susan Conway Williamson
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient