Meeting Notes - October 3, 2017

Tonight was EQAO night for the Education Committee. Unfortunately, our EQAO results were a mixed bag at both the elementary and secondary levels. They can be found here.

In grade 3, there were declines in writing and math, but an increase in reading. In grade 6, there was a decline in writing, an increase in reading, and no change in math. Furthermore, the board performed below the provincial aggregate in every area in grade 3 and 6.

The increases in reading were somewhat of a pleasant surprise because we have received many students to GECDSB who are learning English as a Second Language over the last 18 months or so. However, we implemented new programming in the last school year to assist grade 2 and 3 students struggling with literacy. Lexia and Empower are intensive computer-based programs that work as both diagnostic and learning tools. Essentially, they help students and teachers know where students need the most help, and the computer program is designed to focus students in the areas they need, providing reinforcement as they reach new achievement levels. We saw through our own studies using these programs that they have been wildly successful. In fact, the Lexia and Empower diagnostics showed that all students improved, with some grade 2 students moving from Kindergarten level reading to grade 4 reading, and some students at the grade 3 reading level moving to grades 4 and 5. During the presentation we heard about some quotes from students, including, “It made me read better and it made me happy.” It seems that these programs may have impacted our EQAO scores as well as we saw increases in EQAO scores for students with Special Education and ESL needs last year in grade 3.

I am hoping that the increases in reading are precursors to increases in math. The board undertook a significant math intervention through the Math Task Force which was completed in April of 2016 and in which I am deeply invested. More information about the MTF can be found here. We learned at tonight’s meeting that most of the recommendations from the MTF have been implemented, but some are targeted for implementation through 2017-18. Moreover, some will be ongoing and evolving such as professional development and alignment of all departments to support math, the goal being to ensure that we are changing the math culture. That is, it is important to change the pervasive mindset (not just within our board, but within the broader culture) that some people just can’t do math. As Superintendent Clara Howitt pointed out, “It’s not okay to say ‘I just can’t read. I’m not a reading person.’ We should have the same expectations about math.”

There is a section on the EQAO that asks students about their attitudes and beliefs about reading, writing, and math. There were some interesting findings this time around suggesting that our work to change attitudes about math may have made some early gains. Specifically, more students indicated they like math and believe they are good at math most of the time, even more than they believed the same about writing, and more than their belief that they are good at reading. In fact, slightly more than 50% of students indicated these beliefs about math this year, whereas less than 50% indicated these beliefs about writing. As disposition is a factor that relates to math achievement for students, this is a good sign, and it was one of the recommendations of the MTF.  

It is also possible to study math EQAO based on the specific assessment areas. There is a pervasive belief that we need to "get back to the basics” - and not just within our board. The EQAO assessment areas include fundamentals in both grade 3 and 6 (i.e., number sense) as well as thinking and conceptual areas. In both grades, GECDSB students did well in the fundamentals (the basics), but the area of need across the board is conceptual understanding and application. That is not to say that no students need support in the basics, but it does help us to know where to direct our efforts at a board level.

Unfortunately, the results for both the grade 9 math EQAO and grade 10 OSSLT showed slippage. Although GECDSB is still performing higher than the provincial aggregates in both areas, applied math declined by 12 points and academic math declined by 1 point. OSSLT declined by 1 point as well. Although administration is still undertaking analyses to understand why there was such an extreme decline in applied math, comparing the student feedback questions between the applied and academic students does provide some insight. While only 35% of students in applied math like math, 59% of students in academic math like math. In addition, while only 40% of students in applied math believe they are good at math most of the time, 58% of students in academic math believe they are good at math most of the time. There are some clear differences in disposition here.

With regard to next steps, although there are no diagnostics for math like the Lexia and Empower programs for reading, the board will be implementing a game-based program called Knowledgehook that teachers can use with students in grade 7 and 9. Parents and students can use it home as well.

As I’ve written before, we need to get this right. My personal focus as a trustee has been the math outcome area. I am proud of the work of the MTF, but the work is not over. We have a plan that many educators and administrators in our board developed along with parents and with input and feedback from students and academics. I believe we should honour their work and the plan and give some time to work out any bugs and allow it to come to fruition. Educators at all levels are working very hard and they continue to dedicate hours every day to math professional development, research, and teaching. The board has seen this before when literacy showed decline. When we directed energy toward it, literacy outcomes improved, although it did take time. We set the direction for math in April 2016 and these results come after one full school year. Without a complete implementation of the MTF and a bit more time, it would not be prudent to hastily modify what we are doing. However, we do have closely monitor how it is working because this is not really about EQAO. It is about our children's futures. 

(I am pulling from my September 21 Facebook post now.)

The point of EQAO isn't EQAO scores. It's about the big picture. It's what they mean for our students' futures after they leave us. 

The timing of the results coincide with two other new pieces of information about Windsor-Essex. First, we have the highest child poverty rates in Canada at 24%. Carrying this directly through means we have about 8600 kids in our board who are lacking basic needs. The thing is, education helps lift children out of poverty. That means the same kids coming to school without food in their bellies are the ones that need this the most. There are breakfast programs in many of our schools and we need to examine what more we can do to ensure kids are ready to learn.

Second, the community has a great opportunity to partner on a bid for Amazon's North American HQ described here. As a web-based company they will obviously be looking to hire people with computer skills which requires math. These opportunities will keep coming up. With great math skills GECDSB can help carry our entire community into the future.

I can assure you that I am following these developments and our progress very closely. We will continue to invest resources in math until we change the direction of these outcomes.


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Jessica Sartori