Here We Go !

I am so excited for the journey that we in Blueberry School have begun to embark upon I simply have to share my thoughts.  Parkland School Division has been working for the past several years on a comprehensive reporting project which has culminated in the creation of an innovative new report card to be used within all of our schools over the next two years. 

This new report card has generated much discussion with all stakeholders in Parkland School Division right from our students to our trustees over the past few years, but with implementation formally beginning this year the conversations are occurring everyday in our classrooms, offices, hallways and parking lots.  It’s exciting to see so many people focused on the education of our children. 

These conversations have inspired me to share my thoughts.  It is my hope that having the opportunity to read about the journey of the Blueberry learning community might help others in Parkland School Division and beyond to understand where we are going.  I am also hopeful that I will hear from many of you with your reflections and wisdom to continue my learning.

I have been asked by many parents, colleagues and students, “Why do we need a new report card?”  While this journey for me really doesn’t centre around the report card, but rather about the significant change in teaching and learning that we are undertaking in the field of education, the new report card has served as the motivation to start our transformation in teaching, learning and reporting. 

Most people would agree that we have changed how we teach over the past several decades.  We know more about how kids learn.  Kids are different today than they have been in the past.  There is ample brain research to support that kids are learning differently today than you and I did.  So if we know more about kids, and if they are learning differently, it only stands to reason that we are teaching differently.  I know this to be true as I see fantastic teaching and learning occurring everyday at Blueberry School.  

Blueberry teachers are reflective practitioners.  They are innovative and are continually improving their craft to meet our students’ learning needs.   If kids are learning differently, and we are teaching differently, then we must be assessing differently now than we were in the past.  Again, I see this on a daily basis.  The multitude and diversity of both formative and summative assessment  expands every year.  Teachers are using technology, projects, observations, presentations and other unique ways to assess the learning of students.  So if kids are learning differently, and teachers are teaching and assessing differently, then it only stands to reason that we need to consider reporting differently!

I am also asked many questions specifically about the format of this particular report card.  “Why are we assessing with these process skills?”  “Why are we using these descriptors – Established, Developing and Emerging? Why not the percents?  What is wrong with them?”  Again, all very good questions that I would like to address.  The Alberta Assessment Consortium shed’s some light on these questions with their recently published document Preparing the Way For Valid Results.”

Alberta Education has recently released a document titled the “Framework for Student Learning”  which very clearly describes the vision that they have for Alberta’s students as we continue into the 21st Century.  This document states that “The Framwork and the new MO, along with revised standards, guidelines and processes, will provide direction for the development of future curriculum…”. 

When we examine the Framework for Student Learning and the graphic on page two, we see that the focus remains on Numeracy and Literacy, but that we are striving to support the development of competencies such as Communication; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving to name only a few.  These have been identified through the research and initiatives such as Inspiring Education, and Action on Curriculum.   

This new report card  is very unique in the information it can share, and it very much aligns with the work being undertaken not only by Alberta Education, but it is also aligns very will with the skills and knowledge that we want to develop in the “21st Century Learner”.   Parents and students will be provided with a picture of their child’s development specific to the process skills within the various programs of study.  Perhaps more important than the information that this report card will share with students and parents is the fact that this report card will support teachers as we continue with a significant shift in our pedagogy.

We constantly hear people talk about schools needing to prepare kids for the “real world” and the need for schools to prepare kids for the 21st Century!  If we really consider what these statements mean then we must look at how we are teaching, assessing, and reporting. 

Kids have instant access to information today that we had to memorize as students in the past.  I remember memorizing the capital cities of all 10 provinces in Canada when I went to school.  Before I could recall this information now, a student could use her handheld device, answer the question and be posting it on her own webpage!  There is still a need for students to have basic literacy and numeracy skills.  There are still many pieces of “knowledge” that kids must learn and understand in school, but let’s face it, to prepare kids to be effective in the “real world”, or in the 21st century, kids need to be able to work collaboratively.  They need to evaluate the information that they access.  They need to be effective researchers and critical thinkers. 

When was the last time that your supervisor gave you a problem that they already knew the answer to?  Is this the real world?  Why are we constantly doing this in our classrooms and schools?  Should we not be posing questions that develop the skills I’ve mentioned above?  If we are truly going to prepare kids for the 21st century and the real world then we need to examine the information that we consider critical to teach and report to kids and parents.  It used to be focused almost exclusively on knowledge and the application of basic skills.  Now it’s critical that we change our focus to the process skills that have existed in the programs of study for longer than I have been teaching.

Not only do we need to continue to provide meaningful information on students’ knowledge of various topics, units of study and subject areas, we need to be expanding our focus to assess and report on students’ abilities to “problem solve; think critically; use mental math and estimation strategies; research, etc.”  These skills have existed in the programs of study for decades and teachers have been teaching through them, but often we have not been taking the time and energy to assess students’ abilities within these skill areas. 

Considering my ramblings thus far, given where we are with learners and their ability to instantaneously access information that we would have had to memorize when we were students, should our focus now not include our responsibility as educators to ensure that when students use their technology that they know how to discern reliable information from unreliable information?  Do we not want to support students in developing their skills of research to ensure that they are finding reliable, accurate and credible information?  Should we not continue to support them to understand that Google is not gospel?  Just because it’s a result of their search does not mean it’s useful “information”.

Lets go back to one of the other thoughts I brought up earlier.  “What’s Wrong with Percentages? Everyone knows what they mean.”  Really… let’s examine these statements.  I do not believe that there is anything wrong with percentages.  They are an accurate way of sharing the degree to which students can recall basic knowledge.  If a child achieves 7 out of 10 on a spelling test, 70% gives parents and students an accurate picture of understanding and performance.  Does 64% really tell you the degree to which a student is an effective communicator?  As a parent, what does 64% on “problem solving” tell me?  What do I do with a 73% on critical thinking to help my daughter?  I would much rather know that my child is “developing” her ability to solve problems.   She is able to formulate a strategy, test this strategy and recognize where it falls short, but continues to require teacher support to develop an additional strategy which is more appropriate for the problem. 

Does everyone really know what 75% means in Social Studies?  Does it mean that your child understands 75% of the information and concepts covered?  Which 75%?  How does this help students and parents to focus on improving learning?  Is 75% at one school the same as 75% at another school?  As professionals, we all try to be as consistent as possible but when we consider the math in this percentage based structure it can become very difficult.  Do all schools have the same assessment format?  Are tests worth 30% in all schools?  Are projects worth 35% in all schools?  Is the “final exam” worth 20% in all schools?  I think you get the picture. 

I recognize that percentages offer a level of comfort for students and parents… and some teachers… but does our comfort mean that they are the best way of reporting achievement?  Parents often feel that if they see a 75% they know that they just need to help their child gain 5% more to reach the coveted “honours” level.  Who decided that 80% is honours?  Why not 85%?  How long has 80% been honours?  What research supports this particular standard?  Okay, I digress.  So it really shouldn’t be that difficult to move the 75% to 80% should it?  

For the sake of simplicity, let’s consider the following scenario.  To have the mark of 75% mentioned previously, a student has scored 70%, 72%, 80%, 82% and 71%  on his tests/projects etc.  When we do the “math”, if this same student  next scores 85%, followed by a 90% (let’s keep in mind that he has not yet scored above 82%this year), his average will still only be 78.6%.  He will need to score another 90% on the next assessment just to get to the coveted 80%!  Now that he’s reached “honours”, does the student or parent yet know what pieces of information and what skills are still missing?

I began this post talking about my excitement for our new journey.  While I have many other thoughts on our new report card that I would love to share, I would like to leave you with this one final thought.

There’s an old story that I remember reading in Times Magazine some time ago. 

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred year snooze and is of course utterly bewildered by what he sees’. ‘Every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when finally he walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school”, he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906”’

Every profession, field, industry etc. have evolved over the past 1oo years, has the reporting in Education evolved?

Thanks for indulging me in my ramblings.  Please share your thoughts with me.

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About SPatras

I am a husband and father of two fantastic girls. I currently work as the Principal of Woodhaven Middle School in Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. I am excited to be continuing my administrative career in this learning community!
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12 Responses to Here We Go !

  1. Enjoyed your post. Congratulations on this step. Your last sentence drives home the truth about most education nowadays. Doctors certainly have changed practices since 1906! I wouldn’t let a doctor perform an operation on my child using 1906 or even 1980 techniques, yet many people are content in allowing their children to be educated using aging pedagogy. Interesting.

  2. Shaye I wish I would have read your blog yesterday as it would have been extremly helpful for my presentation I gave at parental council on our new report cards and critical thinking. Thank you for stating the views of many of us educators done so well. I enjoyed your thoughts and how you explained the current situation of our students.

    • SPatras says:

      Tara

      It’s funny now timing truly is so important! Thanks for reading and replying. I found this post useful for my School council and am hoping that it is helpful for my parents as we move forward.

  3. A very thorough post about the assessment journey that began in Alberta and in Parkland School Division many years ago. We have come so far in helping our teachers, students and families understand what authentic teaching, learning and assessment for student growth should look like in our classrooms. It is reassuring to finally have our reporting practices in Parkland School Division align with these best practices. I am so proud of how far we have come. I will be sure to have any parents who are still questioning our practice refer to this blog post for further information to assist in their understanding – thanks for putting this together, Shaye!

    • SPatras says:

      Carolyn

      I agree with you with respect to how far we’ve come. It’s daunting to consider how far we have yet to travel with our students, staff and parents. I hope that this post supports your parents and facilitates great conversations.

      Shaye

  4. Karen Stride-Goudie says:

    Hi Shaye,
    THANK YOU for your reflective, thorough blog. As I read through your writing, I was reminded that education is not a destination … but rather a journey … a journey for all of us … learning and growing together … as we take a critical look at examining best practices in teaching, assessment and reporting.
    It’s an exciting present and future for our students in Parkland.
    Karen

    • SPatras says:

      Karen

      I appreciate the feedback. You are so right that we are on a journey, which I believe is what draws so many of us into this profession. I continue to have discussions on a daily basis around this new report card but these conversations inevitably lead to more deep discussion of teaching, learning and assessment. It’s exciting!

      Shaye

  5. Colleen Woloshyn says:

    Shaye, this is a very reflective and informative piece of writing. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on PSD’s journey around assessment and reporting. Your blog is so well done and I will be sending parents to view it when they have questions on our current practices.

    • SPatras says:

      Colleen,

      Thanks so much for the positive feedback. I feel very fortunate to be able to work within such an innovative and forward thinking division. Our focus on assessment over the past several years has led us to this point on the journey.

      Shaye

  6. Conservative? Yup! says:

    Hey Shaye,
    I understand that things evolve over time and that kids think differently than we did at the same age. I am puzzled about one thing with the new marking program. Where does personal responsiblilty enter into a childs education? If a person never “fails” then how do they get better? You are right about instant information but the draw back to that is that the child never has to learn and retain the information. Example being, how many phone numbers do you memorize now? I will wager its not nearly as many as you did in the past because your smart phone has them on speed dial. It’s human nature to take the easy road and this grading system I see as catering to the PC crowd. There is very little learning in being able to type in a question on your phone. In the real world, because that’s where most people live, a person has to deal with competition and failure. If our school system doesn’t let kids deal with this then how are they supposed to deal when they enter the work force? In our fast paced world where parents aren’t at home maybe the kids aren’t getting the support that they need. IE: reading with Mom or Dad, flash cards, help with homework. We need a strong system that makes them accountable and give them a strong foundation of being able to think for themselves and figure things out. If we take accountability away then what do we have? A generation of lazy kids that expect that they get what they want with out working for it. I will continue to teach my children that they are accountable, and when they fail they will be told so and learn from it. Thanks for all that you do Shaye, without people like you and your teachers our kids would have a much harder future. My .02, I hope there are no spelling or punctuation errors. Let the bashing begin.

    Lance Bird

    • SPatras says:

      Lance,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I would very much agree with you that it is important that kids are prepared for the real world. As I reflect on this though, I can’t think of the last time I was evaluated in my job and given a percentage based review. I certainly receive feedback on areas that require growth and improvement, and I suppose if I didn’t address these areas I would find myself in a difficult conversation with my supervisor. I don’t believe that when we apply the descriptor of “emerging” to a student’s ability to think critically or to problem solve, that we are in any way thinking that there is no further growth required, but rather that we are recognizing that this continues to be an area for growth. This could be a long conversation but I hope I have provided you with a few of my insights.

      Shaye

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