Superintendent of Schools – Today the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the results of the 2015 administration of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a two-hour standardized test that attempts to assess the competencies of 15-year-olds in reading, mathematics, and science. It is administered in 70+ countries / regions. This version of the assessment focused mostly on science but also measure literacy and mathematics as well.
PISA is not without controversy. Canada and Alberta traditionally has done quite well on the tests and these results are often cited by jurisdictions around the world where results are strong. It is often one of the measurements used to compare provinces and countries. In Alberta, the government states that “Alberta participates in international studies of achievement, along with other provinces and countries. These include: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).”
Recently the Alberta Teacher Association voted to urge the Minister of Education to withdraw participation in PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS. Here is some background on the issue as described by the ATA:
“The PISA ideology accepts that economic imperatives, growth and competitiveness are the primary aims of schooling, and assures that student achievement in math and science are used as the key indicators of the future economic health for a region or society. It fails to recognize that the role of education is much broader and includes (among a host of other responsibilities) the nurturing of social cohesion in rapidly changing complex societies, passing on our diverse cultural heritage and the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.
The real issues affecting society at this historical moment are the rise of societal inequalities, the need for greater social cohesion among polarized perspectives, and the collective actions necessary to combat climate change and its impact on local and global economies.”
Canadian students are doing well on these international measures. We remain a very high performing system across the globe. Alberta continues to be a strong performer and the results demonstrate there is no need to panic. In science, Alberta (if it was its own country) would be the 2nd highest performing jurisdiction in the world. Our reading and math results are strong too. Reading remains very high overall and our math results continue to tell the story that we have work to do in that area. In science, overall, performance for girls and boys were equal which is good. In reading girls outperformed boys and in math the boys outperformed girls.
We need to empower and support our classroom teachers continue to provide effective classroom practice to improve overall student achievement, including aspects that are never tested on tests like PISA, PIRLS or TIMMS. Yes, literacy and numeracy and science are important but so are the arts, wellness, social studies, along with competencies such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, citizenship, wide variety of literacies, etc. Truth be told, I’ve never hired anyone based on their PISA score, grade point average, or IQ test.
A number of countries have made PISA results the end-all and be-all. Students are subjected to repeated test preparation sessions and “drill and practice” to try and move up or maintain PISA results. In the end, is that the type of schooling we want for our leaners? I say “no”. We need our youth to be able to learn throughout their life and take on challenges that do not even exist today. They need a strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills but it needs to extend well beyond just that.
In my humble opinion – our professional teachers, who know our students best, are in the best position to assess the achievement of students and support them on their own learning journey. Observations, reflections and classroom based assessments really tell the story. When we make learning real, engaging and visible it answers the questions about the effectiveness of our classrooms.
For more about the Canadian results see – http://www.cmec.ca/Publications/Lists/Publications/Attachments/365/Book_PISA2015_EN_Dec5.pdf
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I attended the Alberta School Boards Association Fall General Meeting. I am not a trustee so my role at these types of events is to support our trustees with information, try and answer questions they might have about how the issue under consideration might impact our schools, and provide chocolate during the long day of discussion and debate.
The event was broken into one day where trustees from across the province discuss policy matters and the second day was more focused on professional learning for trustees and senior staff. Additionally, the event included opportunities to hear from our Minister of Education and the Deputy Minister of Education. There also was an opportunity for trustees to chat and advocate with MLAs at a social event.
Boards put forth motions that they believe should be the official policy of the Alberta School Boards Association. Often motions direct the ASBA to urge/demand/request government to do this or that, or a motion could direct the ASBA to focus their advocacy efforts to try and address an issue. Most of the motions are provided to Boards to consider prior to the event, but emergent items can be considered at the event. Someone from the moving Board speaks to the proposed motion, then the debate and/or questions for clarifications occur. This is a room full of trustees who are quite savvy and know many procedural maneuvers provided under their bylaws and Robert’s Rules. Amendments come from the floor followed by amendments to the amendments. When things get sticky the parliamentarian is asked questions to ensure procedural fairness. Sometimes the debate is heated and often there is strong consensus around the floor. After the debate is completed then one person from each Board has the responsibility to vote (using electronic feedback gathering devices) on behalf of the entire Board. Within a few minutes the assembly sees the results of the vote.
So, what type of things do trustees from diverse areas across the province talk about? At this meeting motions included topics such as: supports to implement recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Call to Action; desire for adequate funding to support Arts programming in schools; that Boards do not have to belong to ASBA for continued participation in group benefits through ASEBP; that computer coding be integrated into the curriculum; that all Alberta students be provided access to an environmental education; increased bandwidth for schools; introduce a curriculum on Mental Health and Emotional Well-being for all students; design and implement a Pre-K to Grade 12 age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum; implementation of the recommendations in the “Report of the Alberta Mental Health Committee 2015.”; and kindergarten hours of delivery match kindergarten funding allocations.
What I witnessed at the event were passionate trustees trying to make our education system better for the kids in our communities.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted their fall joint meeting with trustees and school councils. In addition to trustees, about 70 people were in attendance with a combination of division administrators, school administrators and school council representatives. The two-hour event included a casual pizza supper and information about resources for school council leaders and information about the ward boundary review, but the main focus was about the Alberta curriculum development currently underway.
Two Directors from Alberta Learning walked the group through a 75-minute presentation mostly focused on the “why” and the “how” of the curriculum development project. Looking around the room the group was nodding appropriately and when we had table talk opportunities there was plenty of discussion. We had bursts of questions/comments at certain points. When talking about the development process a couple key question were asked – “How are students being involved in this process that will impact them?” and “Have you talked to recent graduates about their thoughts about what they needed to learn?” These questions resonated with people and a conversation spun-off about when and how that could occur.
About 60 minutes through the presentation a parent made a comment that really hit home with me. The parent stated (very politely) that most of what had be presented did not really make any sense to her. Some other parents quickly vocalized similar sentiments. My mind raced through the previous 60 minutes as I tried to process her comment. I came to the realization that the talk was too much about the “why” and the “how” whereas parents in this room were more concerned about the “what” this means for their children. The talk had acronyms that parents did not know; it talked a lot about the technical components of the development process, which potentially really did not matter to parents; and a six-year timeline to build curriculum just does not make sense to many people. There was a hunger to talk about how and when the eventual curriculum would be implemented.
I walked away from the event with a reminder that we need to make sure that when talking to parents we avoid the edu-jargon that dominates our language. We consistently make assumptions about terminology that we use in our business is known to everyone. We need to focus on how whatever we are talking about impacts their children. Like everyone, we all want our kids to be successful, get what they need and have every opportunity available to them when they finished our system. We need to listen to what parents want for their children. People generally trust public education, but need to know that their kids will get what they need in the end. Maybe, for parents, curriculum development is like making sausages – we don’t need to know about how it is made, but just that it is good.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week we celebrated the grand opening of two new schools in Airdrie – Coopers Crossing School and Heloise Lorimer School. The schools organized fantastic events aimed at a wide audience. In attendance for both events were Jaime Kleinsteuber (MLA for Calgary-Northern Hills), Peter Brown (Mayor of Airdrie) and almost all of RVS trustees. Also present were the lead architect, who designed the schools, key Alberta Infrastructure staff, who served as the project managers for the construction of both schools, and our planning department (Colette and Peter), who were so instrumental in the process. We had a variety of Ed Centre staff present who all played a part in start-up of the new schools.
Many parents attended the event along with all school staff and students. At each event, groups of students participated as part of the ceremony and did a great job. We sang, we watched students perform highlighting their school virtues, we learned about their school logo/symbol.
In addition, there was a group of special guests – family members of each school’s namesake. It was very special to have them present and both schools did a nice job involving them in the day. You could see the pride and honour on their faces that such a major community asset was being named after someone in their family. Their contributions to the community have been significant and now they have been recognized by the naming of new schools after them.
The Cooper family arrived in the area in 1892, establishing a family legacy in grain farming – and community service – that lasted more than a century. The Coopers’ pioneering spirit grew the community of Airdrie that we have today. Hugh, Robert and W Allan Cooper homesteaded the land where Cooper’s Crossing community is located.
Heloise Lorimer was an Airdrie Pioneer, born in Airdrie and lived in here for nearly a century. Heloise Lorimer (nee Vansickle), was considered the ‘First Lady’ of Airdrie and/or ‘Queen of Airdrie’. She was the first baby born in Airdrie and lived in town when there was less than 100 people. She drove the first school bus in Airdrie. One of her greatest joys was to speak to the kids about Airdrie and its history.
Congratulations to both schools for great events and congratulations to both families.
p.s. We will celebrate the official grand opening of RancheView School in the spring of 2017.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week my 14 year old son, JT spent the day at work with me as part of a national Grade 9 campaign entitled, Take Your Kid to Work. Given my work is connected to schools, my kids have a decent idea about what I do, but it was a behind scenes day for JT.
He was excited because he got to wear a shirt and tie just like it was a hockey game. Throughout the day he remained very professional and took the day very seriously. Throughout the Education Centre we had 3 other students attending work with their parent for the day.
I warned him that the day was not planned for him and it will probably be a day full of meetings. The day started with us working on some behind the scenes work on the Ward Boundary Review project that JT pretty much just watched and asked questions about. We then had an hour and a half long briefing style meeting about one of the branches of our Learning Department. We moved right into another meeting about one department’s budget. JT was interested in that meeting because he got to watch a bit about how resources are allocated and some of the challenges when you want to do a number of things but the funds just are not available. He saw us prioritize spending based on the overall student needs.
At one point during the day I had to ask JT to step outside as it was a confidential material, but for the rest of the day he was with me fully. We attended a committee for about an hour that was working on the development of RVS’ new internet site. That was probably his favourite part of the day. The group asked his thoughts on the design because it directly related to students. His day finished with a bit of office work, and then when I headed out for an evening meeting he got to go to his hockey practice.
Since that day he has asked me a couple of follow-up questions about things that were discussed during the day. Overall it was a good opportunity for him to better understand what I do and I really enjoyed having him around for the day.