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Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

1439506332-250w_logo_ocse_pisa

As I read the media reports of the 2015 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results I could almost feel the media’s disappointment.  Of the 72 countries and jurisdictions around the world participating, students in British Columbia were the highest performing in reading, 2nd highest in science and 6th in math.  The results are outstanding.  And this is no small test – over 500,000 15-year-old students participated around the world including more than 20,000 in Canada.  Of course, good news just doesn’t make “news” like bad news.  There are far more people who seem to enjoy a “Students Struggle with Reading” headline, rather than a “Local Students Top Readers in the World” headline. (See full Canadian results here).

I dedicate dozens of posts each year on this blog to talking about the need to do things differently.  And results like those from PISA do not change the need or urgency.  They do remind us in British Columbia (and all across Canada) we are improving from a place of strength.  We have an exemplary education system that is not satisfied with the status quo and we want to be sure that as the world continues to change, our curriculum, assessment and programs continue to adapt to ensure our relevance.

I have written about PISA two times before (when both the 2009 and 2012 results were released – and I still hold to these commentaries).  Beyond the high-level numbers the power of PISA is that there is a lot of data that helps tell a more complete story.  I find the most useful information are deeper in the report below the silly “who won” conversation.  From first look, one sees that there is a very small gender gap in science in Canada, for example, and overall the level of equity (the difference between the highest and lowest scores) is better (more equitable) in Canada than elsewhere.  As I said in my comments three years ago, when asked about PISA – “It is what it is”.  It is one part of the education story, but when governments invest billions of dollars into education, it is a powerful tool to help see we are doing some things right.

I am also left thinking about Finland today.  Like many others, I have visited Finland to learn about what they have done to develop such a strong education system.  And just what first attracted me to Finland?  Well, it was their PISA scores.  The same PISA scores that today indicate the world has a lot to learn from Canada and British Columbia. The same PISA scores that remind me that we can learn a lot in British Columbia from colleagues in Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and truly across the country.  The same PISA scores that remind me as Superintendent in West Vancouver, there is a lot we can learn from Surrey, Victoria and Bulkley Valley.

Of course we have many areas in British Columbia we can improve – it is forever the nature of education.  We need to continue to work to improve our Aboriginal graduation rates, and support all learners in our classrooms.  There is a danger that a report like this can suggest we tick the education box in our society and stop investing – we need to do the opposite and continue to invest in public education in British Columbia so we grow from this position of strength.  And yes, PISA is just one measure – we know there are so many factors beyond tests like these that we need to track to ensure our students are strong academic performers and capable citizens (and yes, there are many thoughtful critics of PISA).

But let’s leave the other conversations for another day – today is a day to recognize the system we have – and it is damn good!  All of us who have children in BC’s schools, and all of us who work in BC schools should be very proud.

OK, that is more self-congratulating than most of us Canadians are used to – let’s get back to work!

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Parents-on-sideline-at-a-youth-soccer-game

We had a theatre full of parents from our school district last week and my message to them was clear:  I need your help in line at Safeway and on the sidelines of the soccer fields.

The Safeway and soccer fields message is one I have delivered before.  Parents in our community have been outstanding advocates for our local public education system. We can create shiny brochures or interactive websites, but parents want the straight goods from other parents, whether they run into them at the grocery store or at their kids’ practice.  I credit positive word-of-mouth for being a key reason for our increase in enrollment over the last decade.  The conversations I was asking parents to assist with this time are different.  I need their help with revised curriculum that is being rolled out across British Columbia – first in K-9 and then grades 10-12.  As I wrote in my last post,  there is tremendous positive energy among educators as they work together embracing the new curriculum, and often new approaches, to meet the needs of students.

Positive momentum among educators is great, but I was reminded by Ron Canuel, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Education Association that this is not enough.  In a presentation he gave recently, he spoke about changes that were made in Quebec with curriculum a number of years ago.  In many ways the shifts resembled those we are making in B.C.  He said that the community was never properly brought along on the journey, and the changes were temporary, not permanent, and a more traditional curriculum returned.

So far British Columbia seems to be making the right moves.  The curriculum has been co-constructed by educators from across the province, and I have sat in many sessions with post-secondary institutions, the business community and others as the shifts in B.C. curriculum were dissected and where those in the room helped inform the discussion and the changes.

But back to Safeway and the soccer fields.  The task I gave our parents is to share some key messages around the curriculum and be myth busters in the community.

Some the messages include:

  • we are working from a position of strength – we have one of the highest performing systems in the world
  • foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are still vital and they are not going away with the changes
  • incorporating Aboriginal perspectives, applying real-life situations to learning, focusing on big ideas and developing core competencies are not new ideas but they are better reflected now in our curriculum
  • as curriculum shifts, so will assessment and reporting and the K-12 system is working with the post-secondary system and others to ensure there is alignment

The session we held last week with parents was inspiring.  Our Director of Instruction Lynne Tomlinson spoke about “B.C.’s Curriculum from 30,000 feet” and then 4 teams of school administrators shared different aspects of the work.  While the rich discussion was an obvious highlight, I have included the presentations below – please feel free to use them and share them (if you receive this post via email  you may need to open the website to see the presentations).

Curriculum Refresh from 30,000 Feet – Lynne Tomlinson, Director of Instruction

Foundation Skills – What are we Still Doing? – Chantal Trudeau and Kim Grimwood

Big Ideas / Central Ideas – Jeannette Laursoo and Tara Zielinski

Core Competencies – Scott Slater and Cathie Ratz

Aboriginal Learning – Steve Rauh and Scott Wallace

Coming off of a couple of days of planning with our teachers, and our session with parents, my belief has been reaffirmed that this is a very exciting time for learning in our province.

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shift

Clearly you can’t change one part of the education system in isolation.  This is one of the great challenges we face in British Columbia – we have new curriculum, but does the assessment still match?  We have been given greater permission from the provincial government to think differently, but have we fully engaged our community in what the “different” would look like?

While it is true one cannot do everything at once, we all need entry points for transformation. First with school and district leaders in our district, and then with Superintendents from across Canada I have recently worked through trying to rank and prioritize these six system drivers:  Shifting Curriculum, Shifting Pedagogies, Shifting Learning Environments, Shifting Assessment, Shifting Governance, Shifting Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement. (click on the graphic below to enlarge)

www.c21canada.org wp content uploads 2015 05 C21 ShiftingMinds 3.pdf

The six items come from Shifting Minds 3.0 – Redefining the Learning Landscape in Canada. I have previously written (Here) about the power and importance of having a national conversation around transformation in education.

I realize it is a bit of a false discussion – you can’t do any of these separate from each other.  In part from being influenced by my local and national colleagues, if we started with one – I would start with pedagogies.

At its core, learning is about the relationship between the teacher and students.  We can have the best curriculum, policies or assessment, but first we need the practices.  As our pedagogies change, our assessment will follow.  And new pedagogies and new assessment will beg for new curriculum and these changes force both shifts in policy and engagement.  And finally our learning environments should reflect our practice so as the practices change the learning environments will follow.

What do you think – if you could start with only one – which one would you select?

Our group of Superintendents from across the country is committed to our own learning starting with shifting pedagogies – it will be interesting to see what we can learn from each others successes and challenges from across the country.

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measure-sales-results

West Vancouver is hosting a screening of the new movie Beyond Measure.   Along with the new book of the same name by Vicki Abeles, they make the case of the collective power of communities to work together for a better school system.  The trailer for the movie nicely sets the tone:

As I was with the previous effort by this film’s director, Race to Nowhere – I am left with mixed feelings.  I am reassured that our work in Canada, and particularly British Columbia is on the right track.  From our shifts in teaching and learning in part fueled by the rethinking of our curriculum, to our move, albeit slower than some would like, to a post-standardized world of assessment where letter grades and system-wide tests are less important and ongoing feedback is more important – there is a lot happening around me that would be success stories in Beyond Measure.  And while I see elements of familiarity between the common Canadian student experience and the common American student experience – while broadly over-generalizing, there are tremendous differences, and we seem to be moving further apart – with the Canadian system, far more in-tune with the themes of Race to Nowhere and Beyond Measure.

Of course there is always more to do.  Beyond Measure reminds us that as we make up ground in one place,  to truly move forward there are many pieces that have to move together.  We are moving on testing, and images of a “zombie apocalypse” that Abeles shares in her book are not our reality, but we are not there yet – a work in progress.  Other topics that Abeles raises from the volume of homework to college admissions are ones we continue to wrestle with.  I was speaking with new teachers last week and was asked about homework “policy” in our district.  We don’t have a central policy, but schools have guidelines, and I can say with certainty there is less homework now being given than a decade ago, the work is far more purposeful – but external pressure, often from parents remembering their school experience fights efforts to move beyond homework.  The guidelines shared in Beyond Measure are strong aspirational goals – homework should advance a spirit of learning, homework should be student directed, homework should honour a balanced schedule.

Particularly heartening is that rather than just list problems, the book is really a call to action – what parents, educators and communities can do together.  I feel some of this “action” right now in BC as we work together to move our system forward.  If others are interested, the book is available here.

The screening of the film is Tuesday, October 27, 2015.  Here is ticket information.  If you can’t attend, encourage your community to bring the film to your local school or theatre and let’s keep this conversation going!

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fresh

“Teachers are required to use some of the worst software I have ever seen.”

This quote from Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Fresh Grade, in his recent talk at TEDxWestVancouverED, sure resonated with many teachers and administrators in the room.  Given the user experience in our province around some of the required software systems over the last twenty years, I know why people think this.

When I first heard people talking about FreshGrade – it was through my cynical experience of other recent technology software that I entered the conversation.  Really – we need another e-portfolio system?  Don’t we already use several in the district.  But this is different, I was told – it just works.

Over the last year we have had a growing number of teachers use FreshGrade in their classes.  Unlike previous initiatives where we provided the tool to everyone, it has been very organic.  And it has that word of mouth excitement one rarely gets in the world of education technology.   All of us who have seen the power of digital access in a classroom have got our hopes up only to have a far too often OPUD (over promise, under deliver) from our digital tools.

This feels different.

I have seen the power of FreshGrade with my younger son, who attends school in another local school district.  This is my ninth year as a parent in the school system, with four kids from grades 1 – 8.  I have seen more of my younger son’s thinking, learning and engagement in a month through the FreshGrade app than collectively with all the other teachers over all the years.  And this is not an indictment of the other classes – there were photo sites, blogs, emails, newsletters and a host of other tools, but the way  this experience truly engages me in the communication of student learning is different.

zack fg

It is not just me noticing what is going on.  Michelle Hiebert from Abbotsford blogged about what she was seeing with FreshGrade last spring, Ian Landy (the Cal Ripken of BC edu-bloggers for his daily posts) has regularly written about his experiences as a Principal with it in Sorrento, and Tracy Sherlock even covered it in the Vancouver Sun.

I would say this is the only time I have seen a piece of software grow like this in its use with teachers, but that would not be fair.  Right now we are seeing similar growth in the use of a variety of Google Classroom tools.  And again the comments I continue to hear are that the tools do what we want them to and they make sense for teachers and schools.  Maybe we are getting to a new place with software in education – as we become less reliant on trying to make tools created for something else work for education, and embracing tools designed for learning.

I look back about a dozen years to when the portfolio came and went in British Columbia as part of the grad program – and it was too bad.  Part of the vision of the 2004 Graduation Program was having every graduating student present a portfolio to school and community members.  There are many reasons why it failed, from poor resourcing to a design that made it really just a collection of boxes to check off.  More than anything, I think it failed because the technology was not ready for the vision.

I regularly challenge people who suggest that many teachers are anti-technology and just don’t want to enter the modern world.  The teachers I know and work with want to use technology that allows them to do things not possible without the technology and make learning more relevant and engaging.

Looking at the growth of FreshGrade in our district is showing that to be true.

Thanks to grade 4 teacher Ms. Bourne for using FreshGrade with her class – I am sure I am not the only parent who really appreciates your efforts.  I see FreshGrade has also noticed and profiled her this week.  

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tensionI know the word tension is often viewed as a bad thing. I think there is a frequent healthy tension when it comes to change in education. And I am feeling it right now.

In a post-standardized and personalized learning world how do we decide which  structural decisions are at the class, school, district and system levels?

One area we are seeing this tension right now is around reporting.  Should reporting look the same across the board in a school?  Across a district? Across a province?  These are all good questions.  Traditionally reporting in British Columbia has generally looked the same across the province.  The Ministry of Education sets out the rules that see students have a certain number of formal and informal reports each year.  Across the province, letter grades and work habits are used in a fairly consistent manner.  And I get it, as students move from community to community or graduate into the world of post-secondary school or work, having some common elements of reporting help make the system run smoothly and clearly.  While those of us in the system have been openly questioning the current reporting structures, I appreciate the larger community often feels assured knowing that there is some sameness when it comes to assessment.

Recently, many districts (including West Vancouver) have been looking closely at different ways of reporting.  And thus the healthy tension within education.  We have some outstanding report card pilot projects in our district and we have decided that the work in different schools needs to inform a common district approach to reporting.  For this fall we are looking at a new common approach to reporting in both Kindergarten and Grade Four.  These new reports flow out of the work we are doing around the curriculum changes in BC.  Of course with diverse programs like IB and French Immersion, even our efforts to have a common approach to reporting will be nuanced.  I know other jurisdictions have held tightly to common reporting across the entire system, while others allow incredible autonomy at the teacher level.

My general view is that wherever we work really influences how collective we need to be.  As a teacher, I often didn’t feel what I did in the class needed to be connected to what was happening in other classes, I just needed consistency throughout my teaching.  As a principal I strived for consistency in the school but didn’t always feel we needed to be consistent with other schools.  As a Superintendent I feel the need to create some common structures across the district, and I see those at the Ministry of Education trying to ensure some common approaches across the province.

As I stated, it is a healthy tension between the class, school, district and system level on a variety of topics as the tension helps open up the conversation.  Whether it is determining what body of content all students in a school, district or province need to know; deciding if there should be a common set of digital tools for teachers and students; or identifying reporting structures that should be consistent in a system there are important conversations to have.  And continue to have.

I have said in presentations that “schools are not fast food franchises” each should have their own signature reflective of the community in which they exist.  I also often say those in schools, “are more than just a group of independent contractors who share a parking lot.”  It is a balancing act to see both these concepts at work.

As we continue to see change in our system, we need to be continually thoughtful and mindful of the parts that must to be consistent across schools, districts and the system.  There is not necessarily one right answer, but the rich conversations that come from these decisions should make our system better.

 

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competition

I was recently reminded about the type of real world competition that we should be preparing our students for.

I was listening to Dr. Jeff Goldstein, Institute Director, Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education, discuss a project that will see a grade 5-7 student experiment selected from West Vancouver and be carried out in microgravity by astronauts at the International Space Station.  Our students, working in teams, will each create an experiment – the number of entries will be short-listed to eventually three that will be sent to the Smithsonian where a team of experts will select the experiment that will be carried out in space.  Dr. Goldstein was making the case that the process of being selected (or not) was an important part of the learning.  Students need to understand that part of being a scientist is competing for research dollars.  One does not just show up and announce she is a scientist and start doing experiments.  This is the competition of the real world -working in teams on a project and competing for selection.

This project reminds me of a similar type of experience we are offering students – YELL(Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad).  Through this program, students connect to accomplished entrepreneurs in both profit and non-profit sectors, learning about communication, presentation skills, branding, marketing and other core skills.  They then turn their attention to solving a real world problem and work with a mentor in the community that leads to a venture challenge and participation in a Provincial Business Plan Competition.  Again, the process reflects the real world of business.

Of course, these types of opportunities are not new.  Particularly in elective areas, we have a rich history  of real world competition.  For example, our visual arts students have long been competing for placement in art shows and galleries.

We do still romanticize the “Jeopardy” like competitions of schools of the past.  The Scripps National Spelling Bee, for example, is covered on live US National television.  While yes, spelling is important, and factual knowledge is important, the competitions are holdovers from a time when the content one knew was king.  Spelling, for spelling sake, is a very isolated skill. More and more it is the application of what one knows that matters.  The thirst for real world relevancy is why students creating experiments that will be tested in space or starting businesses that will face feedback from the community are so enticing.

I wrote several years ago about how my teaching had changed – increasingly it has been about trying to create real world opportunities for students.  It is these type of opportunities that seem to be generating so much excitement with students in our schools.

I hear competition is disappearing from school.  Not true.  It just may not look the same as a generation ago.

We may not rank and sort students as much as we used to – but competition is not disappearing, in some ways it is hopefully becoming more real.

 

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