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School board aims to re-prioritize student success after poor test scores

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“I feel like many of our staff feel as if they don’t have any ownership in the organization or their job, so this policy will help us operate as a more complete board,” said board trustee Jennifer Cobb regarding the board’s proposed achievement plan. The plan, in theory, sees the board truly putting students first. Photo by Allen Steinberg, QNet News

By Allen Steinberg [2]

BELLEVILLE – A draft plan to refocus the board’s emphasis on student success was the key topic of discussion at the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board [3] meeting Monday evening.

The proposal suggests the responsibility for the board administration along with local schools to come up with a specific plan that refocuses on student achievement related to testing scores from the EQAO [4] and OSSLT. [5] The results from the mandatory tests have not met provincial standards in certain areas over the past decade.

Officially called the Board Improvement Planning for Student Achievement, [6] or BIPSA for short, the plan will consist of twice-yearly reviews of schools and the progress of students over that time period.

Tina Elliott, superintendent of curriculum services, told trustees student success is instrumental to the board’s goals to achieve better results.

“We need to continue to improve our board. We need to make sure we are prioritizing student achievement before anything,” said Elliott. “We need our students to continue to improve.”

She added it is the board’s sole responsibility to ensure their students are doing well.

“Our board, from here forward, will improve based on our student’s needs to optimize their success … This is about accountability. We will be accountable for our actions as a board and most importantly, the families in our communities,” she said.

Jennifer Cobb, a board trustee, said board staff have not always been on the same page. But this draft plan will help them function more as one, she said.

“I feel like many of our staff feel as if they don’t have any ownership in the organization or their job, so this policy will help us operate as a more complete board,” said Cobb.

The official draft proposal [6] highlights the main goals of the plan, which states the board aims to promote a culture of student success, use test results to make informed decisions and to address barriers to learning students may have.

While in its early stages, the draft also outlines the way the school board plans on implementing the idea. The draft says that for this to work, all members need to be on board and clear deadlines need to be drawn out.

Although not directly addressed at Monday’s board meeting, the proposal comes about six months after student EQAO [4] and OSSLT [5] test scores were released to the public. Hastings and Prince Edward students have consistently had lower test scores than the provincial average, but last year’s marks were lower than usual.

The results drew much concern throughout the Quinte region.

Sean Monteith, Hastings and Prince Edward’s education director, issued a public response [7] to an article titled “School test results: are our kids just stupid?” where he acknowledged the board’s struggles to enhance student success. The original opinion piece online has since been deleted.

“First and admittedly, we have a student achievement challenge; and the recent EQAO results specific to the math, reading, and writing indicators demonstrate this. Mr. Ellsworth characterizes this as ‘lagging behind others.’ I agree. In fact, the administration and the very people responsible for directing their energies towards addressing this student achievement challenge, I’m certain would all agree,” said Monteith in his response last October.

Last school year, mathematic testing grades for elementary students across the province reached an all-time low. Just 28 per cent of Grade 6 students in the Hastings Prince Edward district met the provincial standard, which is a ‘B’ average.

According to records on the Hastings Prince Edward District School Board website [8], students in the district have had lower test marks than the rest of the province for the better part of 12 years.

Furthermore, student math marks and literacy test marks have declined for students in the area over time. The most recent data [9] on the board’s website states that “2018 results indicate that 37% of students in Applied Math courses achieved Level 3 or 4. This represents a decline over time.”

For the mandatory Grade 10 literacy test, the website says “62% of students were successful.” This set of data comes from the 2017-2018 school year which is the most recent information the website displays.

“The achievement results for HPEDSB are concerning. The data shows that our students continue to perform below the province. The results are static in some areas of reading and writing and continue to trend downwards in mathematics. We want to see a better outcome than this for our students,” said Elliott in a press release in October of last year.

Due to the ongoing labour disputes in Ontario, EQAO testing was cancelled for Grade 9 students this year.