mix of urban and rural students, with about 50% bused, many travelling up to an hour each way. Thirty-seven percent of the students have an IEP, with a wide range of exceptionalities. The staff members believe that all students should participate fully in school activities, and they work hard to build an inclusive community. Teachers embrace the challenge of meeting the needs of all children and provide a variety of opportunities, so that everyone can participate.
St. Joseph’s also has a supportive Catholic school council with a strong commitment to the students and their activities. Members of the parent community take an active role in the school, getting involved in activities such as coaching sports teams and building stage sets for the school musical. The parents are proud of the success of the students and of their commitment to social justice activities. Through the parish, the students participate actively in many local charities, food drives and other outreach programs.
Over the past five years, St. Joseph’s has demonstrated increased success on both the academic and applied versions of the Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics. After examining the EQAO data together with the board and school data, the school team identifies the school’s strengths and weaknesses and formulates its school improvement plan. An analysis of the various EQAO reports enables the teachers to discuss how they can “tweak” their teaching practices. The data provide insight into what they may have missed in their daily practice and help guide their next steps. The teachers also review the questionnaire results to learn more about students’ attitudes toward math, particularly their confidence in their ability to do math, and how this correlates with achievement. All math teachers look at the “Summary of Results and Strategies for Teachers” to help decide what they can do differently to meet their students’ needs.
Staff members believe that collaboration between Grades 8 and 9 teachers to ease the transition from elementary to high school is key to the success of St. Joseph’s students. This collaboration is facilitated by having the Grade 8 classes at the same school. Teachers in Grades 8 and 9 meet regularly to discuss the EQAO tests and to learn how they can work together to build strategies into the Grade 8 curriculum that better prepare the students. The teachers study previous years’ tests, group the questions by strand and link them to the Grades 8 and 9 textbooks. All teachers model these test questions in their classes. Grade 9 math teachers examine the Grade 8 textbooks looking for rich tasks that intermediate teachers can use. Throughout the process, Grade 9 teachers also stress the importance of using the language of math and key words from the assessments, so students become more familiar with the question structure and the language of the curriculum and tests.
“Data is a critical tool used to guide our progress. It reveals what needs to be done and shapes our next steps to provide quality instruction for our students. Using information from classroom, board and EQAO assessments, we will continue to refine our practice to increase our achievement in both the academic and applied levels.”—Brennan Trainor, Principal
All this preparation ensures that, by the time the students write the assessment, they are comfortable with the questions. Grade 9 math teacher Stacey McGregor explains: “The reason why we have success is that EQAO math is good math. We look at the test items and results to reinforce what we’re doing and to make decisions about changing our practice so our students can get even better.”
The Renfrew County Catholic District School Board, which also recognizes the importance of collaboration among Grades 7–9 teachers, has created a Math Working Group. This group brings together Grades 7–9 teachers from throughout the board to “talk math” and share strategies to improve student achievement, especially on open-response questions. Release time is provided by the board, and funds are available to support the purchase of resources.
Grade 9 math teachers at St. Joseph’s focus on daily assessment and on providing immediate and descriptive feedback to students. At the beginning of each math class, students are given a five- question quiz based on the previous day’s work. This quick diagnostic tool immediately tells teachers if they need to re-teach or differentiate their lessons for specific individuals or clusters of students. In their classes, teachers concentrate on open-response questions, and two or three questions are assigned each week. The math teachers have adopted the philosophy that “less is more” and believe that assigning fewer questions enables the student to understand more deeply.
Another important strategy focuses on the appropriate placement of Grade 8 students in Grade 9 math. Parents and students are encouraged to make informed decisions about selecting academic or applied math. Because Grade 8 classes are taught in the same school, the guidance teachers speak with all students, and they create the timetables together. When considering the proper placement of students, the Grades 8 and 9 and guidance teachers examine Grade 8 math marks with respect to strands and focus on Algebra and Number Sense. This year, the teachers at St. Joseph’s are pilot testing a diagnostic assessment to be administered to Grade 8 students near the end of the year. The assessment, developed collaboratively by teachers, includes questions from academic and applied classes and will eventually be administered board-wide. The teachers will use the results to help guide students to choose the appropriate level. They will then track the students through Grades 9 and 10 to see if the assessment has been effective in student placement. The goal is for students in applied and academic courses to achieve equally well on the EQAO assessments.
Principal Brennan Trainor states: “I am very proud of our success at St Joseph’s High School. Data is a critical tool used to guide our progress. It reveals what needs to be done and shapes our next steps to provide quality instruction for our students. Using information from classroom, board and EQAO assessments, we will continue to refine our practice to increase our achievement in both the academic and applied levels. I am fortunate to work with staff that are committed and give their best to ensure that every student has the opportunity to achieve success.”