At St. Mary’s Secondary, we’ve tried multiple ways to diversify and to differentiate instruction, and despite our best efforts, we felt that some students were still disengaged and were still unable to fully access the material that we wanted them to, were unable to move forward as quickly as perhaps we wanted them to and that they felt that they should be progressing. For that reason we started looking at different strategies to appropriately place the students so that we had the best opportunity to assess their gaps in knowledge, and we could move them forward. We started to make use of our data-integration platform, so we were looking at Grade 7 and 8 report card grades; we were looking at EQAO data, at CAT scores from Grade 5 and Grade 7, and when we compiled all of that information, we had a pretty good understanding of who that student was even before we went into the feeder schools for the exchange-of-information meetings with the Grade 8 teachers. At those meetings we were able to ask the appropriate questions: Is the mark that is on the report card a result of an accommodated program? Is it the result of a modified program? Is there a particular strategy that these students prefer, or particular settings, particular resources that would allow them to progress within the Grade 9 math curriculum? All of those pieces of information were compiled, and we could then suggest to the Grade 8 teachers and to the parents this is where we think the student should be come September in the Grade 9 math program. Once the students arrived at St. Mary’s, we would give them a couple of days to review Grade 8 expectations and to have them become comfortable with our teaching style, our expectations, etc., and then we would again provide them with a math placement test, which we devised, and it’s based on Grade 8 expectations. We’ve broken up the test up into strands, so that we know that the student is weak in this strand as opposed to that strand, and we can appropriately close the gaps that need to be addressed before we move onto the Grade 9 curriculum. In addition to that, we also use the Test of Mathematical Abilities, the TOMA, and that provides us with a—it’s a standardized test—it provides us with a little bit of extra information in terms of vocabulary, in terms of ability to extract information from word problems and the like. Once all of that information was once again compiled—once the teachers had a couple of more weeks to speak to the expectations within the course, to be able to assess where the students were at, to discuss with each other, to commonly plan and assess—we would be able to make a more informed decision as to what the appropriate placement level was for these students. In so doing, we would be able to easily move them, say from an academic to an applied, or from an applied to a locally developed, given the pre-developed timetable, which is allowing us to schedule the academic, the applied and the locally developed all within the same period. So it would be pretty much a seamless transition between one math course and the other, without having to impact the rest of the student’s timetable. Of course, before any movement could be had, any changes could be made, parents would need to be contacted, and there’s a real information piece that goes with that, a bit of an education, because parents sometimes feel that if their child is not in academic that it is a career-limiting choice if they put them in the applied, and basically we need to inform them that in reality, what we need to do is we need to build a good, strong, solid foundation on which we could further develop their mathematical and numeracy skills.
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