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A Success Story

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					By Steve McCabe, Principal
St. Joseph Catholic High School
Ottawa Catholic School Board




A Success Story
John F. Kennedy said, “A rising tide floats      have seen how we can benefit greatly by           learned what you expected they would learn.
all boats.” At St. Joseph Catholic High          embracing the story in the data.                  Teaching and testing are congruent with
School in south Ottawa, we certainly can                                                           learning and giving students every
relate to this idea. For the past three years,    EQAO Ontario Secondary School                    opportunity to excel in a testing situation is
we have seen increasing success in two key        Literacy Test                                    clearly the goal. Our teachers have made
areas of the curriculum, our EQAO results         Our story at St. Joseph has been one of          full use of the EQAO website that offers
in both the Grade 9 Mathematics                   trying to reduce the anxiety that the data       resources including sample test questions
Assessment and the Ontario Secondary              can conjure and attempting to play with          and an excellent planning and preparation
School Literacy Test (OSSLT), and our             strategies that will have a direct impact on     guide. Our results have convinced us that
credit accumulation statistics. These good        our results. For example, in 2007 the data       this is an effective strategy.
news stories have buoyed the entire school        indicated that a significant number of our
and have played a role in other successes.        male students were struggling with portions      The following chart indicates the improved
Teacher collaboration is widely evident           of the OSSLT, namely the multiple choice         success rate among our Grade 10
and there is a growing comfort with the           questions and questions dealing with their       population who successfully obtained
term, professional learning community             ability to relate the text to themselves and     their literacy requirement.
and all its possibilities.                        the world. Through a concerted effort to
                                                  address these and other gaps, our results         Year          OSSLT Success Rate %
I was elated when appointed to St. Joseph         have dramatically improved in these areas.
                                                                                                    2006 - 07     87.8
in January 2007. In its short history, St.       As educators, we need to ask the question,
Joseph had earned a reputation, of having        “How do we know that what we have planned          2007 - 08     90.3
had much success with literacy rates and          to improve student learning is actually           2008 - 09     92.9
pass-fail rates. I joined a community of          working?” This important question forces
enthusiastic educators who are open to            professional dialogue. This dialogue is          EQAO Grade 9 Mathematics
learning new methods of teaching and              paramount as teachers look at student work       In the area of mathematics, we have recently
happy to share what works. They inspire           and decide what is working and what is not       enjoyed exceptional success. St. Joseph has
me daily and it is our students, who gain         working. Teacher intuition is nurtured and       been featured as a profiled school on the
the most.                                         this is reflected in our results.                EQAO website. This has given us reason to
                                                                                                   celebrate and has encouraged us to stay the
St. Joseph Catholic High school has a            The literacy team at St. Joseph is an             course. Parents, teachers, students,
population of 1,450 students and 84 teachers.    exceptional group of educators who have           administrators and others, all feel part of
It is aligned from grades 7 to 12, with our      developed a number of effective strategies        this success story and contribute to the
grades 7 and 8 students on a five-day cycle      to enhance literacy rates among our learners.     positive direction in which we are heading.
of six 50-minute classes per day and our         Friday homeroom literacy activity sheets,         An example of initiative and collaboration
secondary students on a semester schedule        mandatory school-wide reading blocks,             is the story of the Grade 8 math exam. Grade
with four 75-minute classes per day.             word walls, word of the day, skill of the week    8 students typically do not write exams in
                                                 and other strategies have gone a long way to      Ontario. When Ian Fischer, the grades 7
As administrators, we are all aware of the       promoting student confidence and                  and 8 math curriculum leader, suggested
role that school data has played in the past     understanding, especially in testing              they experience an exam, I was hesitant. His
few years in education. Extensive and            situations. We have all heard it said before      idea was to use the exam room that was set
detailed data on student achievement is          that schools that do well with EQAO testing       up for our high school exams, before it was
provided to schools with the hope that           are likely just “teaching to the test.” This is   dismantled. Accommodating 250 students
school improvement plans will address the        an interesting phrase, “teaching to the test.”    in our gymnasium was the easy part;
areas of concern where growth is required.       When we talk about expectation-based              frightening our younger students was my
This includes EQAO data or data that our         learning, it seems clear and obvious. Tell        worry. Ian and math teachers from both
boards are able to provide regarding credit      them what you expect and show them                panels worked hard to develop a meaningful
accumulation, pass-fail rates in various         exemplars, teach them what you want them          task that would provide them with a great
subject areas and gender gap analysis. I         to know and assess whether or not they have       deal of information concerning the Grade 8


14   •   PRINCIPAL CONNECTIONS
math program and student learning. In addition,           Our efforts do not begin in Grade 9. The
an exam experience was thought to help alleviate          most important dynamic is the ongoing
testing anxiety for future testing experiences,           collaboration and communication among
namely the Grade 9 EQAO Mathematics test.                 staff. By working together to develop and
Furthermore, Ian and his department developed             share strategies, we are experiencing
a series of questions the students would answer in        ongoing success. Ours is truly a grades 7
SurveyMonkey immediately following the mock               to 12 success story.
exam experience. Questions such as, “Do you like
math?” and “How did you find the exam                Credit Accumulation
experience?” helped give the teachers anecdotal      While our credit accumulation statistics reflect a
evidence of how the students were feeling and        demographic of strong parent involvement and
where student learning could be improved.            successful pedagogy, it was still evident that there
Collectively the teachers have indicated that this   was opportunity for greater success among our
feedback was very useful and will help shape         student population. A significant indicator of
future teaching. As Ian notes,                       student success lies in the number of credits a
                                                     student has gained by the end of the second year in
    The information gathered from the exam           high school, Grade 10. With a mandatory eight
    is important as it influences how we             credits per year, sixteen credits is the goal for all
    teach the Grade 8 math course in the             students by the end of year two. In 2007-08, our data
    following year. For example, if we find          showed that we had 84.8 per cent of Grade 10
    that several students are not completing         students who had achieved sixteen credits. This
    a particular question or topic correctly,        statistic presented an opportunity for improved
    we re-adjust our long range plans to             credit accumulation results and much dialogue
    allow for further development and                ensued as to how we could best meet our new goal.
    detailed investigation into these missed         The Credit Accumulation Team (CAT) was born
    concepts in the following year. We then          with representation from the teaching staff, Student
    look at the results in the following year to     Services, including our student success teacher and
    see if our changes have made an impact.          resourceteachers,andadministration.Collaboration,
    This experience of working together to           creative thinking and student advocacy are highly
    improve the way that the mathematics             evident at these team meetings as individual
    program is implemented has been a                students are discussed. Effective plans proposing
    success not only for student learning but        credit recovery, credit rescue, tutoring and social
    also for the professional development of         supports have proven to be highly effective. Our
    the teachers.                                    2008-09 data showed that we had closed the gap by
                                                     6.2 percentage points with a new credit accumulation
                                                     rate of 91 per cent for our Grade 10 students!
 Year        Gr. 9 Applied       Gr. 9 Academic
             Math Levels         Math Levels         As principal, I am continually learning about the
             3&4                 3&4                 importance of encouraging initiative and
                                                     collaboration. The exam experience and the CAT
 2004 - 05 17%                   66%
                                                     team are examples of the many well thought out
 2005 - 06 36%                   70%                 strategies that enhance student learning at St. Joseph.
 2006 - 07 13%                   72%                 This school has developed a confidence in offering
 2007 - 08   60%                 76%                 creative student opportunities for enhanced learning,
                                                     even though at times delayed because of principal
 2008 - 09 49%                   80%                 hesitation. Some of these include: focus programs
                                                     giving students the opportunity to learn how to build
The secondary teachers and most specifically         a house or study broadcast media; dual-track credit
the Grade 9 mathematics teachers, recognize          programs with students gaining college credits;
the amount of effort that has gone into              exciting cooperative education opportunities; and
preparing the students for their Grade 9             achievement centre success stories.
experience well before they arrive in Grade 9.
There is obvious evidence of the solid foundation    In our Catholic school there is a sincere attempt to
the students have received in their previous         elevate students to reach their God-given potential
math programs and therefore readiness for the        and celebrate when they do. JFK was indeed right
curriculum covered by provincial testing is          about the rising tide!
apparent. As I state in the featured EQAO
article on St. Joseph,                               For further information contact Steve McCabe at
                                                     Stephen.McCabe@ottawacatholicschools.ca.


                                                                                                          WINTER 2009, VOLUME 13, ISSUE 2   •   15

				
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