St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School has a population of 1186 students in Grades 9–12. The school offers a full spectrum of programs, including locally developed, applied, academic and university prep courses, as well as extended French and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Data indicates that the number of English language learners has increased in the last few years, and 24% of the current Grade 10 students were born outside of Canada. Students have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of clubs, events, projects and sports teams. There are high academic expectations from students, teachers and parents. The 2012–2013 Halton Youth Survey reveals that 97.7% of Loyola students believe that good grades are important, and 89.9% of students agree that teacher expectations are high. Ninety percent of Grade 9 students are enrolled in academic math classes.
At St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Student Success Team examines and analyzes EQAO data, progress and mid-term reports, marks and learning skills to identify trends and make evidence-based decisions about areas for development and improvement in order to move forward. For example, in using the EQAO Profile of Strengths and Areas for Improvement data in 2010–2011, the team noticed that students in applied classes scored below the board average in the Thinking category. Using the collaborative Catholic Learning Communities approach, the team implemented the four-step problem-solving model from EQAO’s Summary of Results and Strategies for Teachers. Teachers received release time and worked together to look at the type of questions that needed to be included to make the concept more explicit for students. Students were exposed to EQAO-style questions and presented with open-task challenges, and teachers consistently reinforced the vocabulary of the curriculum used during the mathematics assessment. School data clearly supports the effectiveness of this strategy, as students became proficient throughout the semester with identifying key terms, making better plans to answer questions and implementing a wider variety of strategies to solve problems. Grade 10 student Matthew Aslett agrees: “The four-step problem-solving model and open tasks make you think. Marks are important, but it is the mindset that is most important.” The four-step problem-solving model has now been extended to Grade 10 and also serves as a model for other schools in the Halton Catholic District School Board.
“We embrace data. We dig deeper. We look at the whole picture, and then we decide what we are going to do about it. We are committed to the process of continuous improvement, having a positive school culture and providing positive opportunities for all students.”—Nijole Vaitonis, Principal
The after-school numeracy program also contributes to student success at St. Ignatius of Loyola. Teachers identify students who are experiencing difficulty or who need additional support, and they become part of the Student Success List. These students are invited to take part in an after-school numeracy program for eight consecutive weeks. During this time, a mathematics teacher is available to re-teach concepts that have proven to be difficult, and students are provided with opportunities to practise and receive immediate feedback. Parents are informed of the need for the student to attend the after-school program. Attendance is closely monitored, and data has shown that 80% of participating students successfully demonstrate continuous improvement. The implementation of this initiative supports the school’s belief that every student can learn with the appropriate supports. Chris Hall, Secondary Numeracy Itinerant teacher, states: “At St. Ignatius of Loyola, it is always about what supports need to be put in place to assure student success. It is not simply a matter of changing pathways, but about what we can do as a team to have all the necessary supports in place.” The special education department plays an integral role in supporting students in Grade 9 mathematics classes, and the special education resource teachers co-plan and co-teach with the math teachers.
Success and growth over time on the Grade 9 mathematics assessment has been the result of a systematic approach to examining data from various sources and using it effectively to move forward. At St. Ignatius of Loyola, teachers meet often to participate in powerful professional conversations about student achievement. The Catholic Learning Communities created over the years have led to many initiatives to support student learning. Principal Nijole Vaitonis states: “Real change happens when teachers own the conversation.” As a result, every math class has a Smart Board, and teachers from various departments have worked diligently to create activities to maintain student engagement through the use of technology. Two years ago, the mathematics department focused on creating consistent and effective practices that focus on assessment for learning, and they implemented the use of exit cards and success criteria. Teachers also participate in multi-school Collaborative Inquiry and Learning in Mathematics to co-plan, co-teach and debrief math lessons. Students at St. Ignatius of Loyola are prepared to demonstrate their learning when they write the Grade 9 assessment of mathematics. Grade 12 student Jarrod Baddeliyanage explains: “Teachers always provide the support and resources we need for us to reach our potential, not only in tests but day to day. They also make sure that on the day of the test we know what to expect and that there are no surprises.”
“At St. Ignatius of Loyola, it is always about what supports need to be put in place to assure student success. It is not simply a matter of changing pathways, but about what we can do as a team to have all the necessary supports in place.”—Chris Hall, Secondary Numeracy Itinerant Teacher
St. Ignatius of Loyola is a busy school with an active parent council. It is a school community where the focus is on reaching every student. Administration, staff, students and parents embrace a culture of learning and collaboration that is key to the positive school environment, and all students are encouraged to see themselves as successful lifelong learners. Programs and initiatives to improve student achievement and provide 21st- century learning opportunities are developed based on solid evidence and data. Principal Vaitonis states: “We embrace data. We dig deeper. We look at the whole picture, and then we decide what we are going to do about it. We are committed to the process of continuous improvement, having a positive school culture and providing positive opportunities for all students.”
Dr. Bette M. Stephenson
Recognition of Achievement, 2013 School Recipient