Rockwood Public School, in the town of Pembroke, has a population of 398 students in junior kindergarten to Grade 8. The demographics of the school have remained constant over the years, and there is very little mobility. Rockwood offers a French Immersion program beginning in Grade 5 and also has a specialized program for students at the primary, junior and intermediate levels who need extensive support. The school’s participation rate in the EQAO assessments is 100%. The EQAO cohort tracking data indicate that, while a number of students did not meet the provincial standard in Grade 3, they reached it in Grade 6 and that those who had performed at the standard in Grade 3 were able to maintain this achievement in Grade 6.
The school culture plays a significant role in student success at Rockwood. There is a strong partnership with parents, who are kept well informed. The school council meetings are always focused on the curriculum. The principal and teachers provide information about school initiatives and EQAO results, and parents are invited to provide input into the school plan of action. There is a community feeling based on respect, trust and shared values.
EQAO results are important to decision making at Rockwood and are used extensively by the administration and staff to inform the school improvement plan. Using the data from the Item Information Reports, student work and results from classroom, school and board assessments as their guide, teachers and administrators identify an academic focus and implement many effective strategies for improvement. The team approach allows all staff members to provide focused interventions once an area of need is identified. For example, a careful and systematic examination of information from various sources led to an inquiry project in mathematics. Data revealed that students did not have confidence in their math communication skills to explain the reasoning that led to their answers to open-response questions on the EQAO assessments. Teachers decided to introduce “accountable talk” as a strategy to encourage students to talk about their learning. They modelled the types of comments and vocabulary they wanted to hear and then, using PRIME data, strategically grouped students into pairs. These pairs became consistent purposeful-talk partners during mathematics lessons, which enabled the students to take risks, as they built on each others’ ideas to improve their answers. The students also provided feedback to each other while teachers circulated to offer prompts and encouragement. Teachers filmed students’ discussions and then used the resulting observations to plan how to probe students’ answers and reasoning further. With effective modelling and practice over time, students became adept at explaining their reasoning and choices of strategy.
Teachers also made extensive use of various math games to support student engagement. The games relied on the use of manipulatives, and these became part of students’ tool box for problem solving. Students responded positively to the use of games to access prior knowledge or to consolidate their learning. Professional development has been a key component in the area of mathematics. Teachers have worked with Marian Small to develop effective teaching strategies, practise these in their classroom and return to share and reflect on their experience. Teachers use common language to discuss mathematics and are able to focus their actions to achieve curriculum goals and meet the needs of all students through differentiated instruction.
Literacy is an important focus at Rockwood. Grades 2 and 3 teachers worked with colleagues in other schools to develop a board-wide formative assessment for reading. Teachers selected appropriate texts based on curriculum expectations and designed questions following the format of the EQAO assessments, including multiple-choice and short-answer questions. The assessment is administered in the fall and again in the spring. These assessments are marked using the teacher moderation model with teachers from other schools. The initial results allow teachers to provide timely and targeted interventions for students prior to the second assessment. Teachers report that they have developed a greater understanding of the language curriculum and the links between EQAO assessments and the curriculum.
The Booster Club is another example of the commitment to success for all students. A small group of Grades 3 and 6 students selected using data from various sources participates in 16 hour-and-fifteen-minute sessions twice weekly after school to help boost their confidence and enhance their skills in math and language. These sessions directly support curriculum expectations covered in the classrooms and incorporate a variety of resources. There is much collaboration between the Booster Club teacher and those in the regular classroom to ensure consistency in approaches and a direct link to classroom practice.
Such a comprehensive and deliberate approach to student success and improvement would not be possible without the support and guidance of the school administration. Staff meetings are dedicated to professional development and to the implementation and monitoring of the school improvement plan. The focus is on classroom goals and ensuring deeper understanding. During the meetings, teachers have the opportunity to look at student work and engage in professional conversations regarding criteria and levels of achievement. The administration ensures maximum instructional time, time for same-grade teachers to co-plan and uninterrupted literacy and numeracy blocks to support meaningful learning experiences for all.
The focus at Rockwood is on reaching every student. All partners embrace a culture of learning and collaboration, which is key to the positive school environment. The achievements of this school can be attributed to hard work, perseverance, collaboration and a clear vision based on the collection, examination and purposeful use of data. Principal Mary Ann Mullen states: “It is important to use data to understand where students are and where they need to go. Data clearly tells us what students can do now and what we as professionals need to do to move each one of them forward. It is important to always put a face to our data so that we remember who we are here for, and then we need to work as a team and focus our energy on student achievement. I am fortunate to have a committed and dedicated staff that will do whatever it takes to support students.”
“It is important to use data to understand where students are and where they need to go. Data clearly tells us what students can do now and what we as professionals need to do to move each one of them forward. It is important to always put a face to our data so that we remember who we are here for, and then we need to work as a team and focus our energy on student achievement. I am fortunate to have a committed and dedicated staff that will do whatever it takes to support students.”
— Mary Ann Mullen, Principal
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient