Message from the Superintendent (March)

We frequently talk about all of the changes in education and the “messy” work that is involved in transforming a good school system into a great one. Some days it seems like we are taking baby steps as it takes commitment, time and lots of work to make effective change happen across a diverse school division with 9500 students and 1000 staff. We have a century of good practice that has served us well. However, we now have decades of effective schools research, and studies in teaching, learning and assessment that provide such a powerful basis to ensure we move from good to great!

Parkland School Division (PSD) has been focused on student assessment for over a decade. Our schools have been working hard to ensure that students have multiple ways to demonstrate learning and that they receive meaningful and timely feedback. Students need to be at the centre of the assessment process so that they can take responsibility for their learning.

Back in the day, a student may have received a zero for a missed assignment. Today, we would expect that a student is not permitted to take a zero. Learning is not optional. Today there is an expectation that the assignment would be completed and handed in – choosing to skip the assignment is typically not an option. And when a student does not achieve an acceptable mark on a test or paper, he/she is likely expected to do some further learning and then redo the assessment. Back in the day, we focused on the “teaching”, today we focus on the “learning”. In other words, it is not good enough for a teacher to say “I taught that”. The question is whether EVERY student actually learned what was taught. It is a subtle but very significant shift – moving from ensuring teaching to ensuring learning.

Several years ago, teachers in PSD began asking for an improved report card format – one that more closely aligned with good assessment practice and the expectations of Alberta Education. That request was heard and schools were encouraged to consider alternate reporting formats including report cards, portfolio assessment, student lead conferences, etc.

Following three years of pilot projects and alternative assessment strategies and reporting, our Division created the Assessment Working Committee – staff from various grades, schools, departments, administrators and teachers who have coordinated the development of our new report card.

We are half way through our first year of a two-year implementation plan. Each school community is working at their own pace to transition, recognizing that there is a learning curve for all of us – students, parents and staff.

Parents and teachers are expecting students to strive for excellence and to that end we are holding students more accountable than ever! We know the importance of having high expectations and continue to set the “learning bar” high. One of the concerns about our new report card is the question of how we report excellence.

We have heard this comment and will be sure to address this as we make this and other adjustments to the report card for next fall.

We appreciate the conversation, question and debate about reporting student growth. The introduction of our new report card has encouraged some terrific interest in assessment and it has generated great conversation between home and school. Thank you to the parents who have offered feedback. Every comment is being considered as we work to improve the report card – always mindful of the goal to increase parent understanding and to improve learning.

Transitioning to the new report card will take time. We recognize the shift to a curriculum-based report card will require conversation between home and school. We invite you to visit our websitehere to find out more about the report card. In the very near future, you will find details about improvements that will be made for the upcoming school year.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Superintendent’s Message (February 2012)

Parkland School Division Superintendent of Schools Tim Monds

As this message is being written, the community is buzzing about the upcoming Alberta Winter Games. Once again, the communities of Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County unite to share in the work, in the joy and celebration of an event that will bring opportunity and pride to the youth and families within our region and beyond. Parkland School Division is proud to be a partner in this exciting sporting and cultural event that will touch the lives of people across the province.

Schools have been the “heart of the community” since the beginning of public schooling. It is compelling that despite the many changes that have occurred in so many aspects of schooling there continues to be an ever-important focus on the connection between schools and the community. Relationships are at the core of the teaching and learning process and our work is in the people business. That will never change.

More than ever today’s fast paced environment requires community and parental involvement in many aspects of the education system. We have known for decades that student success increases when parents are working collaboratively with school staff. It is important to recognize that parental involvement happens in a variety of ways. While we appreciate the active commitment and leadership of our School Councils and the Council of School Councils we recognize that there are many other ways to be involved!

Whether a parent or community member is able to be a regularly scheduled school volunteer or whether a parent simply makes the time to sit down to talk with his or her child about what is happening at school, the connections between home and school make a valuable contribution. And we all know that even finding the time to have those important conversations isn’t so simple!

Parkland School Division celebrates Alberta Education’s increased focus on community engagement. Hearing the voices of interested, caring and concerned parents and public make us better. You can continue to be an important part of the action through our open invitation to talk with staff at any time with your thoughts and questions. More specifically there will be times where we come to you in a more systematic manner to seek your feedback on certain topics like the System Review (the important work that the Board is undertaking in order to address ongoing challenges with over and under population of schools) and the implementation of our new report card. Talk to your local school and be watching our website for updated information about these and other current initiatives.

With feedback and opportunity to provide comments and advice and to ask questions comes the chance to clarify thinking, to open up to change and new ideas. While the challenges within education may not always have clean and easy decisions, the value of healthy debate strengthens our decisions and helps us move forward with our commitment to ensuring that students have the greatest chance for success.

Along with the voice of parents, we strongly support the value of hearing student voice and of helping our students to make positive contributions and as they find their place in our communities. I have just accepted the invitation to provide opening remarks to the upcoming school wide Student Convention at Duffield School on March 2, 2012. Their theme: Communities – Working Togetherreminds us of the powerful relationship that exists between home, school and community.

Having firsthand experience with children who have competed in the Winter Games in the past, I am fully aware of the significant impact that these Games will have on so many families. With your help, our legacy of community involvement and commitment to the development of youth will continue to be seen in our schools and will be felt long after the closing ceremonies!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Message from the Board Chair (January 2012)

Welcome to 2012. What will the New Year hold for education in Alberta, for our students, employees and community? Normally over the Christmas season we make wishes for Christmas and resolutions for the New Year, but as we move into 2012 wouldn’t it be great if:

  • Every child in Parkland School Division had the best learning year of his or her life.
  • A new school was announced to accommodate overcrowding issues in east parkland.
  • A new government committed to education as its top priority, solidifying Alberta’s place as a world leader in preparing the new leaders of the global community.
  • Adequate, predictable, sustainable education funding would allow for long term planning and goal setting.
  • A new Education Act empowered school boards and communities to make the best decisions at the local level.

It is clear that 2012 will be a watershed year in education. As teachers and parents strive to prepare our children for successful and productive adulthood in an increasingly global and changing community, the traditional face of education will change. We must be prepared to accept the fact that ‘schooling’ plays only part of the role of preparing our children for their future. The face of education is changing and will continue to change. We must be prepared to value this change as a whole community, embracing the new reality of life in the twenty first century, while offering constructive, critical thought on the value of these changes.

So, the Trustees on the Board look forward to the exciting challenges and possibilities ahead. On behalf of the Board, I wish each and every student, parent, employee and community member the most prosperous New Year.

Richard Gilchrist
Board Chair – Parkland School Division

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Message From the Superintendent (January 2012)

Whether your school holiday time was enjoyed at home, at the home of family or friends or in a tropical vacation spot, I hope that you had the opportunity to appreciate the best of the season! As I shared in my Christmas message to our wonderful staff across Parkland School Division, let’s carry the joy and hope of the season into the New Year and throughout 2012!

The beginning of a new calendar year provides the opportunity to refocus and to set goals for continued growth and success in all aspects of life. It offers those same opportunities for students as they return to classes. This is the perfect time to talk about accountability and the emphasis that we place on holding students responsible for their choices and progress relative to both behavior and learning.

I cringe when I occasionally hear parents or our public complain about the lack of accountability in schools today. Our assessment strategies are all about holding students accountable. When we talk about second chances on assessments and about not allowing students to take a zero on an assignment, that does not translate into coddling our youth and accepting less than best effort. In fact, it demands that students do their assignments, that they strive for excellence and that they take additional steps to learn the curriculum before having another chance to demonstrate their learning. It’s not about being lenient, lowering the bar and giving unlimited chances to students who are not working.

School is often compared to “real life”. Parents expect that school will model real life and that students will be prepared for real life. In school, just as in real life, people sometimes get only one chance to perform or to demonstrate their learning (for instance on provincial exams) – however, most often (in schools and in real life) people get the opportunity to improve and to try again – to get assistance and to really learn. How many people do you know who are very thankful that the citizens of Alberta have more than one chance to pass a driver’s test? Giving a second chance does not mean lowering the standard. It means expecting everyone to meet the standard, even if it takes some folks a little longer.

As you likely know we are taking the next two years to implement our new K-9 Division report card. Several schools have begun that implementation this fall, while others are preparing for implementation in the fall of 2012. In either case, there is conversation happening in all corners of the Division as staff, students and parents work together to make the shift to reporting more about how students learn rather than just about what they learn.

In many ways, the written report card represents the “public face” of a decade of work in assessment. Discussions around the new format continue to give parents and staff the chance to have meaningful conversation about student growth. The report card must always been seen as one “snapshot in time” about how a student is learning. It needs to be considered in the context of a much bigger and more comprehensive picture of a student’s development.

If as parents you ever have questions about how your student is achieving, please contact the classroom teacher who will be very interested in sharing her/his perspective, working with your child to show you evidence of learning and to identify areas for growth and strategies for addressing those areas.

So, in your conversations about returning to school please encourage your child to establish some new goals or to recommit to those areas identified earlier in the school year. Let’s unite in our expectation that students must be held accountable – after all, that is how we can increase learning. Happy New Year – here’s to six awesome months of learning!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Playing In Public

In Parkland School Division, we have been trying to model our learning, both the struggles and successes, with our community.  It is imperative that we are modelling for our students the process of learning and through initiatives like the 184 Project and The Learning Leader Program, we are able to share and learn both openly, and globally.

Recently, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, George Couros, created a video for the K-12 Online conference, as a featured keynote.  His video highlighted some educators from around the world, but also a great deal of work that is being done in Parkland School Division in continuously striving to model being a learning organization. 

Please feel free to check out the video below and share any comments that you may have.

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The Power of Sharing

We were extremely excited to see an outside educator talk about the sharing that is happening so openly at Parkland School Division recently on the 184 project.  Kurtis Hewson, an educator and professor at the University of Lethbridge, recently talked about the influence Parkland’s open learning model has had on his own professional development.

 I have never set foot in a Parkland School Division School.

To my knowledge, I have never physically met a teacher working in a PSD70 school.  I have never attended a professional development session hosted by a Parkland staff member or had any friends or family members attend Parkland schools, past or present.

Yet, Parkland School Division has had a tremendous impact on my growth and development as an educator over the past year and a half and its staff and students collectively continue to influence my teaching and learning.

We are very proud not only of the work that we have done in Parkland, but our open learning model and willingness to share.  Our Learning Leader Project is now fully underway, and traditionally, we would hold on to that work (unintentionally) and have it only shared with PSD70 Educators, but now it is open to the entire world.  Parents, students, and educators from all over the world do not only have access to the information, but they are more than welcome to use it and modify it in a way that works best for their kids.  When we share, we can also learn from others in what they do with our work, and it helps us to continuously create better learning opportunities for our students.  It is always about relationships and learning, and through this sharing, we know that we can improve both.

Kurtis continues on in his post to talk about this open learning and how it is transforming education:

Parkland staff represent a large percentage of my current Professional Learning Network on Twitter.  I follow a number of PSD blogs and I am accessing resources suggested by my PSD colleagues daily.  At a time when many school divisions are still ensnared in Digital Footprint 2.0 mindsets, Parkland strives to push the boundaries in how technology can support purposeful learning for students, staff, community and the greater educational community.

We are honoured that another educator has recognized the work that Parkland School Division has been doing.  We are taught in kindergarten that sharing is important, and in Parkland, we will continue to model that for our community, local and global, and most importantly, to our kids.

Thank you Kurtis for your kind words.  Hopefully we can continue to collaborate, create, and learn together.

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Shrinking World

As you are reading this message I am in the final stages of packing for my trip to Japan.  Passport – check – cash converted into yen – check – gifts to share with hosts, information about our great School Division, and a special plan on my Blackberry to ensure communication from abroad – check, check, check!  What?  I need formal documentation of my blood type?  Wow – it would be easier to stay on home turf.  I enjoy what I do and look forward to the daily opportunities and challenges working with others to ensure the continued success and improvement of Parkland School Division.  So why bother with the expedition to Japan?

First of all, it is by invitation from the Japan Foundation and connections through Alberta Education that I received the opportunity as one of 5 Canadian educators joining a delegation to visit Japan, to continue to develop relations with our Japanese counterparts and to deepen our understanding and commitment to second language education. It is truly an honor to represent our School Division and our province.

Beyond that, our world is shrinking…and I see such benefit in being abreast of the issues and advancements of education – not only in Alberta, but throughout Canada and beyond. Having recently participated in the OECD International Conference that was held in Banff, PSD Board Chair Richard Gilchrist and I, along with other Trustees and staff worked alongside colleagues from 18 countries as we grappled with exciting opportunities that exist for our students and in making learning meaningful and relevant in our new world.

You would be surprised at how frequently we experience events (small and large) that remind us of how the world is changing. Just last week we were contacted by a school in the Silicon Valley (California, USA). Via PSD blogs, websites, Twitter, etc., they have been following our advancements in assessment, embedding technology as tools for learning and in professional development, etc. and they are looking to us for support as they attempt to build teacher capacity in the use of technology. Imagine the call coming to us from the Silicon Valley – the US hub and think tank of all things technology!

We are serious when we talk about ensuring that our students are prepared for life after public education. That requires us to be on the leading edge – in the know and leading transformation in our schools. As Superintendent of our learning organization I am committed to taking the steps necessary to remain current in my understanding of the educational landscape and in having the tools necessary to continue to uphold the vision for our journey.

Will I become a fan of sushi? Highly unlikely. But I promise to represent all that is valuable and attractive about public education in Parkland School Division and in Alberta. I will ask lots of questions and do my best to gain an understanding of Japanese education, culture and relationships that will add value to what we are doing specifically with our students who are studying Japanese, those in other second languages and general principles related to education.

Have you checked out my recent blog “Hope”? As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are still welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will always open. But now, like many of you, I have entered the world of social media, so you can even send me a tweet!

 

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Hope


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by DieselDemon

Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.  ~Christopher Reeve

 

The last two weeks have reminded me of how fortunate I am as a husband, father and in my career as a teacher and now Superintendent.  We sometimes face adversity that causes us to lose hope.  I on the other hand have felt nothing but hope!

What comes to mind first is Parkland School Division’s amazing students, staff, parents as well as the community support shown for the family both immediate and extended to the Greystone School Community with the recent passing of Jolene Cote.  Parkland School Division will remember Jolene as a treasured staff member who shared her talents and passion for the profession of teaching.   Pastor Wiebe sp0ke at Jolene’s Memorial Service about hope.  A message for all of us, even during the darkest hour, there is hope.  To move on in life we must have hope.  We must always remember…but we must always believe there is hope.

I believe we must embrace this sense of hope as we continue our journey in education. Last week our Board Chair Richard Gilchrist and I had the honor of atteninding the International conference on Innovative Learning Environments in Banff (October 10-12) organized by the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Alberta Education  conference in Banff.  Together we learnt about innovative learning environments and discussed steps in encouraging innovative education around the world. Representatives from  Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Hong Kong, and five provinces of Canada collaborated and shared thier vision and hope for our children’s future, and ultimately, ours.  There was a high degree of hope for the future of education and the ability to meet the needs of our learners in a new century.

Recently, Principal Shauna Boyce from Memorial Composite wrote “High School Parents can still be invovled“.  She stated the following:

The key to a successful high school experience, for parents and students, is communication.  We all want the same thing – for your sons and daughters to be happy, responsible, respectful, caring, and learned individuals. We want them to get everything they can out of high school and to achieve their potential.

I again felt hope for our future…ethical citizens ready for an everchanging world who will be our future leaders.

Principal Shaye Patras recently wrote a blog titled “Here we Go“.  In his post, he concluded with:

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 100 years; has the reporting in Education evolved?”

This also affirmed my hope for the future.  We are having conversations and looking to the future doing what is right for kids.  Trustee Ron Heinrichs, Trustee Eric Cameron, Associate Superintendent Emilie Keane, and Division Principal George Couros,  attended the  21st Century Learning Conference in Banff, Alberta, from October 12-14, 2011. The Pillars of the Forum were Career, Learning, Globalization and Sustainability (economic/environment). PSD representatives spoke about a presentation by  the Cenovus corporation, which focus on hiring employees that are critical thinkers, and problem solvers who are engaged and passionate about the work they do.  As a company, they will teach the content, but are more focused on developing staff with the necessary skills/competencies that will be needed by those working in a “knowledge economy”.  My hope for the future of education in Alberta is that together we embrace the recently released Alberta Education document, “Framework for Student Learning“, which very clearly describes the vision that they have for Alberta’s students as we continue into the 21st Century. A vision that supports what this company is asking for.

My blog today was to share a few thoughts that support there is a wonderful future for our children in Alberta.  Together we will find our way down this path always doing what is right for kids…our future leaders.

When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
~Author Unknown

 

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High School Parents Can Still Be Involved!

Shauna Boyce, Principal of Memorial Composite High School, has always believed in the power of collaboration.  This is shown clearly in her latest post, encouraging parents on the many ways that they can be involved in the learning process as the high school level.  If you are interested, please take the time to visit the Memorial Composite High School (Notes from the Office) to keep up with the latest events!  Please read Shauna’s message below:

It is fairly common for parents to become less involved with their son’s and daughter’s schools as their children get older.  Often this is because it isn’t as readily evident how they can participate.  It is true, high school classrooms do not have a high need for parent-volunteers, and many opportunities to volunteer in other situations become more and more difficult to create.  And of course, there is the small but powerful desire of many students not to see their parents in the school.

That does not mean, however, that involvement in your son or daughter’s education becomes any less important.  There are ways you can be involved at Memorial Composite that reward experiences for all.

Here are a few (in no particular order):

  • Join our  School Council – School Council is a great opportunity to have input into school decisions and get direct information about what’s happening in school
  • Attend Sporting Events – our student athletes love to see the stands full of Marauder fans! Even if your son/daughter doesn’t play on the team, it’s still a great way to spend an evening for free.
  • Attend Music and Drama productions – every performance runs much better in front of a packed house!  We have some amazingly talented students here at MCHS who would love to showcase their abilities.
  • Volunteer to coach, or even drive a bus – we’re always looking for people to help out so we can offer all of our athletic programs.  If you’re not a talented athlete, perhaps you’d be willing to offer to drive a team to a game once in a while.
  • Is your occupation one that is immediately relevant to curriculum? Offer to Skype in or host a field trip in your place of work.
  • Is your son/daughter on a sports team or in music? Join the Green and Gold Society or the Music Parents’ Association – our fundraising committees for athletics and choir/band respectively.  We simply could not offer the calibre of extra-curricular opportunities we do without outside funds.
  • Do you have some construction, fabrication or artistic background?  Our Drama program will probably need assistance in set production for their performances.
  • We have a number of major citizenship events open to the community.  We hosted a very successful fundraiser for the Global Enrichment Foundation, and will soon begin to focus our efforts to raise funds for the General Romeo D’Allaire Foundation . Our first event went extremely well, but only through the amazing support of our students, staff, parents and community.  You would contribute greatly if you were able to volunteer time to prepare for our next event.

Of course, being involved does not only mean volunteering your time.  Being involved in your child’s education starts with becoming informed, thus opening the avenues of communication.

  • Touch base with your child’s teachers and grade administrator – email or phone and introduce yourself. Don’t wait until parent-teacher interviews, which by the way, are scheduled for November 4 and November 8 (5:00 – 8:00 PM).
  • Many of our teachers have facebook or twitter accounts they use to keep students updated and notify them of upcoming important dates. You can join those feeds too!
  • Read and review courses outlines your son/daughter brings home – they contain valuable information about procedures and how grades are calculated.
  • Check in about homework. Most students will have homework almost every day. Remain mindful of how much time your child spends on it and help them to balance school responsibilities with family/friends, and work commitments.
  • You can remain informed about school events and celebrations by “liking” our Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/MemorialComp or following us on twitter www.twitter.com/MemorialComp and of course, regularly checking our website www.psd70.ab.ca/schools/mchs 

The key to a successful high school experience, for parents and students, is communication.  We all want the same thing – for your sons and daughters to be happy, responsible, respectful, caring, and learned individuals. We want them to get everything they can out of high school and to achieve their potential.

I would love to hear your comments about other ways to get involved at Memorial Composite. Please feel free to add to the comment section below.

I look forward to seeing you at some of our events!

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Here we go!

Shaye Patras, a principal at Blueberry School in Parkland School Division, wrote this very detailed post on comprehensive reporting.  We have asked him to share it on our blog site and would love any feedback or thoughts you have on this post.  Thanks to Shaye for sharing his thoughts openly with our school community.  Please take time to read the post below

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, andAction 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 variousprograms 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.

Posted in 21 Century Learning, Assessment, Messages from the Superintendent | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments