In the rural community of Walkerton, Sacred Heart High School serves 671 students in Grades 9–12, with the majority who enter Grade 9 graduating from the school. The school has experienced a steady decrease in the student population over the past five years. Many of the students live in Walkerton, but 60% are bused from more than 20 towns, villages and hamlets in the area, travelling up to 50 minutes each way. The school, with support from the board, provides late busing three days a week, giving students an opportunity to participate in after-school sports and activities.
Sacred Heart has a supportive parent community that helps organize school events such as the Relay for Life for cancer. Parents have a strong connection with parishes in the area, which are focused on enhancing home-school-parish relationships. In fact, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Women’s League fund various school activities. Students also participate in an annual mission trip to Nicaragua, with support from the whole community.
The school team analyzes over-time EQAO data as an ongoing reference point to monitor students’ progress and identify their areas of strength and those needing improvement. Early in the fall, the math department chair examines the results and then meets with the teachers who taught the students to share the data and check for any discrepancies. A decline in the math scores prompted the decision to focus the improvement plan on Grade 9 applied math. The EQAO results are also shared with the whole staff because the teachers at Sacred Heart believe that if students are to be successful, they must all share in the plan to move forward. Principal Greg Schnurr states: “It’s not just the math department. This is our school and we want our school as a whole to do well.”
To identify areas of student need, the school took advantage of three cross-panel release days provided by the board so that Grades 7–9 teachers from Sacred Heart and its feeder schools could meet to discuss each student to determine his or her strengths and weaknesses. On these days, the teachers focused on each math strand, examining the students’ Grades 6, 7 and 8 report card marks and junior EQAO test scores. Teachers also considered attendance patterns, IEPs and schools of origin to build a profile for each student. To track this information, they developed data walls, using an Excel spreadsheet, so that they could easily access information on any student and update information throughout the year. This ongoing dialogue also provides teachers with an opportunity to learn from one another and develop strategies that will ensure a seamless transition from Grades 8 to 9. Deborah Hicks, math department chair, believes that “creating student profiles, including EQAO and classroom data, provides us with a better picture of each student and where they are at so we can determine how to better meet their needs and give them the tools they need to be successful math learners.”
The Grades 7–9 teachers also analyzed the EQAO Student Questionnaire results to gauge the students’ attitudes about math. They compared how students’ confidence in their ability to do math was reflected in their scores. At the beginning of semester two, the Grade 9 students were asked to participate in a survey, developed by the board math lead, to obtain further information about their attitudes and help staff determine next steps. The Student Work Study Teacher met with all Grade 9 students to discuss their attitudes and comfort level with math, manipulatives and technology.
“Creating student profiles, including EQAO and classroom data, provides us with a better picture of each student and where they are at so we can determine how to better meet their needs and give them the tools they need to be successful math learners.”
— Deborah Hicks, Math Department Chair
A series of practice tests developed using EQAO resources is another successful strategy implemented at Sacred Heart. These tests focus on problem solving, and teachers work with the students to help them understand how to decode the questions. The teachers realize it is important for students to understand the style of the questions and the language, especially key words, before they can be successful on the Grade 9 test. Teachers also use the scoring guides with students to examine the criteria for each of the four levels. Working together, teachers and students determine what is needed to move answers to the next level. They refer to this strategy as “One Level Up.” The student success teacher also meets with each student who experiences difficulty on the practice tests and provides remediation during the school day.
“ Examining data from an elementary and secondary perspective and encouraging collaboration and conversation among teachers from Grades 7, 8 and 9 adds another dimension to student learning that we don’t get from just the Grade 9 math results. What makes the difference is knowing where the students are at, what they need and how they can be successful. I am fortunate to work with a staff that is willing to collaborate, share, build relationships with students and give their best to ensure that every student has the opportunity to achieve success.”
— Greg Schnurr, Principal
After examining the data wall, student profiles and the students’ attitudes toward math, the school team made a decision to try a different approach for semester two by reducing the number of students per class in Grade 9 applied math. They requested and received an additional teacher to create three small instructional classes. The students started each unit together, completing diagnostic tests to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Based on these results, students were then divided into three groups, with those requiring the most support placed in a class of six with an educational assistant and peer tutor to assist them. The groups changed with each new unit, resulting in a positive effect on the students’ ability to understand and solve math problems and on their attitudes toward math.
Another positive outcome from this decision to create smaller, flexible groups is the excellent relationship and connection between students and staff that has occurred and the opportunity for students to experience different teaching styles. One Grade 9 student explains: “I like that the classes are separated into different groups with each unit because they focus on what we need. In some units I struggle and I know that I will get the extra help I need, and it is interesting to work with different teachers and students.”
Principal Schnurr is very proud of their success at Sacred Heart High School. He states: “Examining data from an elementary and secondary perspective and encouraging collaboration and conversation among teachers from Grades 7, 8 and 9 adds another dimension to student learning that we don’t get from just the Grade 9 math results. What makes the difference is knowing where the students are at, what they need and how they can be successful. I am fortunate to work with a staff that is willing to collaborate, share, build relationships with students and give their best to ensure that every student has the opportunity to achieve success.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson Recognition of Achievement, 2014 School Recipient