Achievement Matters

With student achievement always our top priority, we’re working to ensure our elementary students are ready for success in secondary schools and our secondary students are successful in their chosen pathway – apprenticeship, college, university or the workplace. We know student achievement improves when instruction meets the needs of each and every student. Knowing our students is an important step in improving student achievement by making sure we’re implementing appropriate instruction as well as effective interventions to address a student’s individual learning needs.

At HWDSB, we’re working on this through a tiered approach – where the level of support varies according to the needs of each student. Put simply, we’re asking: What do all students need, what do some students need and what do a few students need? In fact, our students aren’t the only ones learning on a daily basis. By working together to strengthen our organization, we are constantly planning, acting, assessing and reflecting on our practices to better meet the needs of our students. We’re learning from each other about what works and what doesn’t. We want the conditions to exist for our students to learn better.

As one measure of assessing our students, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) results of the Grade 3 and Grade 6 reading, writing and mathematics tests, and the Grade 9 academic and applied mathematics tests that Ontario students wrote in 2009-10 show some improvement.

Across the eight areas measured, Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) experienced no declines and achieved gains over last year’s assessment in six areas. The Board has, in fact, seen encouraging results in the past five years: on Grade 3 writing, results have climbed nine per cent so that 65 per cent of students are at or above provincial standard, while Grade 6 reading and Grade 6 writing have both gained 10 per cent in the same period.

In Grade 9 math, HWDSB most assessed secondary schools saw an upward trend in applied and academic math. Since 2005-06, Board-wide applied math results have risen from 31 to 42 per cent, putting HWDSB above the provincial average. Academic math rose from 68 to 80 per cent at or above Level 3, just shy of the provincial average of 82 per cent.

Students continue to make slow and steady progress towards the provincial target of 75 per cent of students at provincial standard on Grade 6 reading, writing and math EQAO assessments. HWDSB is building on strategies in place to ensure sustainable improvement. We are continuing with the implementation of comprehensive literacy across all grade levels, continued use of the three-part lesson in math, and continuing our focus on junior boys’ writing by adding a writing component to our Boys Read to Succeed/Games Workshop initiative at the Grade 6 level. In every school across HWDSB, we are making extensive use of the Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway and School Effectiveness Framework to guide our efforts on student achievement. This is helping to lend precision, focus and alignment to our work.

We also value and support adult education as a way to foster lifelong learning and build capacity in our community. We are committed to preparing all adult students to be ready for success in their chosen pathway, apprenticeship, college, university, or workplace. For this, we are developing varied and customized learning opportunities and options to support the completion of secondary school credits, the development of language, literacy, and numeracy skills, and further training to help our adult students’ achieve their work and life goals. With a focus on community needs, inclusion and 21st century fluencies, this process involves consultation with community partner agencies, our students’ family members, and our adult students.

Challenging our Students

We hold high expectations for all of our students through our focus on critical literacy and higher-order thinking skills. These are abilities that do not become outdated. We want to challenge our students, so that they can embrace a bright future.

Of course, we teach the core skills and competencies our students need for graduation. We also challenge them with personalized learning to suit their learning style, their needs and their lifestyle. We also challenge our students with programs that take them into the realm of aviation aerospace, robotic engineering, international languages, biotechnology and so much more.

Our students are also choosing to challenge themselves, and we want to support them as they do so. Students are working hard and learning through social justice initiatives, student leadership and advocacy on issues they care about. We know that learning opportunities occur inside as well as outside of the classroom.

Because each student is unique, they will require differentiated instruction. We believe that, with specialized learning, diverse pathways, programs of choice and multi-level supports, we are challenging students to push themselves so that they can achieve their full potential.

21st-century Fluencies

The world is changing and we want our practices – and our students’ learning – to adjust accordingly. We want our students to be equipped for the world of today, as well as for the rapidly evolving future.

This is why we are incorporating new forms of literacy, or ‘fluencies,’ in our classrooms throughout our system.

These 21st-century fluencies will help our students develop mastery when it comes to five domains: solutions, information, collaboration, creativity and media.

By fostering these fluencies in existing and future learning practices, we will see our students develop problem-solving skills, analytical skills, artistic proficiency, critical thinking, self-awareness and so much more.

This work connects to others resources such as the modelling found in the Ontario Leadership Framework, the indicators in the School Effectiveness Framework, the emphasis on learning skills found in Growing Success, and the tiered approach to personalized learning found in Learning for All.

Supporting All Students

At HWDSB, we are improving student learning and achievement through a variety of Special Education programs and services. These are helping our struggling readers, our students with learning disabilities, our students with autism and more.

Focusing on a student’s strengths, the Centre for Success Program helps students with diagnosed learning disabilities identify and explain their personal learning profiles. It also gives them a thorough understanding of the use of their assistive technology. This helps students find more opportunities to demonstrate their learning, and helps them to advocate for ways that instruction can better support their learning.

Meanwhile, in the Connections Program for Students with Autism, we develop personalized transition plans and processes so that we can effectively move a child with autism from community programming into a school environment. We have implemented this model in close collaboration with our community partners and our families.

Helping Struggling Readers

Research can shown that inadequate reading abilities – in word attack, fluency and comprehension – interfere with successfully accessing secondary school curriculum and can lead to disengagement, absenteeism and early school leaving.

In 2009-10, two HWDSB secondary schools introduced a structured program, the Wilson Reading System, to help struggling Grade 9 students become more proficient readers. Pilot findings suggest that most students rate this program very favourably and almost 80 per cent would recommend it to students like themselves.

More than 75 per cent of participants indicated that they had become better readers because of this program. They were right. On the Woodcock Johnson test of achievement, students showed significantly stronger word attack skills after the program that at the beginning of the intervention.

Specifically, students moved, on average, from the low end of the Low Average range (10th percentile, or better than 10 per cent of students their age) to the high end of the Low Average range (24th percentile). Student attendance was also tracked during the pilot, but rates did not appear to change in relation to Wilson participation.

Early Literacy Enhanced

HWDSB is enhancing its instruction and intervention in each of its elementary schools so that all students will be able to read by Grade 3.

Tied to the Strategic Direction, Achievement Matters, this work uses what is called a tiered approach to adjust assistance according to the unique needs of each student. Children who struggle with reading early in their education often see the gap with their peers widen over time.

Academic data indicates that schools need more early reading interventions for struggling readers. Meanwhile, mental health research indicates that not reading by Grade 3 is a factor in the lack of future academic success and social-emotional problems. HWDSB’s encouraging pilot project Response to Intervention demonstrated that a high-quality tiered literacy program can help oral reading and assessment results.

Among the initiatives in this area is the Empower Reading Program, which was developed by researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Empower helps struggling readers apply specific decoding strategies to read independently for meaning and information.

In 2009-10, we increased staffing to support the Board-wide kindergarten to Grade 2 focus and now have three system-wide Empower trainers. Also, three secondary teachers were trained on the Empower High School Program. Empower is now in 46 elementary schools at HWDSB, serving 368 students. Read more …

Problem Solving in Math

After a successful pilot, we are building on our problem-solving approach to math, with a special focus on applied-level learners in grades 9 and 10.

This includes use of the math lesson study, which sees teachers work with a math facilitator as a coach, to co-plan, co-teach and debrief to improve a lesson.

We are using the three-part lesson, which taps into a student’s prior learning, uses activities to address the day’s learning goals, and then consolidates this learning by having students demonstrate what they have learned.

We encourage students to talk about math, in pairs, in groups and for presentations, to help them retain what they learn. We are also having students use blocks, cubes, SMART boards and other tools and technologies, so that they can interact with math in a hands-on way.

Making it KKLIC

Connecting the Dots

21st Century Fluencies Defined