Monday, June 24, 2013

Assessment Disgrace

I'm frustrated and angry.

Just today I read a Mathematics 10 Provincial Exam Study Guide written by two Canadian educators (one from BC and the other from Alberta) published by a large, well known, publishing company.

In the section titled "To the Student", there is an explanation of and rationale for provincial exams.  It states:

Most provincial exams are designed to evaluate a students proficiency  in the curriculum at different levels.  In some jurisdictions, for example, a mark of 50% denotes competence, and mark above 80% is considered to indicate excellence.
It is expected that students will demonstrate different levels of competence.  In fact, most jurisdictions design exams so that: 
  • 20% of of students who write exam do not pass (score less than 50%)
  • 60% of students who write the exam score between 50% and 80%
  • only 20% of students who write the exam demonstrate excellence (score above 80%)
For this reason it is important for individual students to set personal goals and use this goal to help them decide which questions are within their ability.  For example, if you expect to score at the 70% level, then 30% of the questions on the exam or test are not written for you.

This is disgraceful.  

Where do I begin?  

So much for standards based grading.  The bell curve is alive and well.  Somehow engineering what success looks like is good for students, teachers and the discipline of mathematics 

Assessment for Learning? Forget it.  We use assessment to label students  - 20% of them as failures and 20% as winners.

The growth mindset?  What's the point - some students will forever "decide" their ability in Math.  Some of you will always be failures

I could go on - but I'm afraid I might write something I will regret.

And we wonder why so many students struggle with and "hate" Math.

I am not aware of the design standards for the Mathematics 10 exam in BC but I hope that the above design elements are NOT used here. 

IF these are the design standards for the Math 10 Exam  - please stop - our students and teacher deserve better.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

“See you around” and a “Sort of” Goodbye

As some of you may know, I have accepted a two year secondment as an Associate Superintendent for the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese.

I am going to miss the parents, teachers and students of St. Patrick Regional immensely.  I've been blessed to work in such a caring, hardworking and inspired school community.

At our year end assembly I was showered with many kind words of appreciation and gifts.

The most sentimental (yes, I tear up every time I watch it) and enduring gift came from the staff and students in the form of this video (below).

I am so lucky to have been apart of this school community.

There are no good byes, only good memories.....

Some have asked that I provide a copy of  the
closing remarks I gave to the school community .  I have attached a copy of the text below....

For the next two years I will have a different job. I will still be connected to St. Pat’s and you will see me from time to time at the school.

Nonetheless, I think it is important that I say a few words to you the parents, teachers and students

To the teachers:

You are one of the reasons St. Pat’s is the school that it is. Your service to your students is incredible.

You care for you students as if they were your own children. You love them as your own.

You don’t just teach courses or learning outcomes. You seek to transform the individual hearts, minds and souls of your precious students

You push your students to new heights – to places they are not even aware they could go.  Most importantly you provide a path of support to get them there!

You provide your students learning experiences that last a lifetime.

Your knowledge, expertise and passion is inspiring.

Your love of Jesus radiates out from you - with more than just words – to transforms our students

You have reminded me that the quality of school is proportionate to the quality men and women who work within them

Remain soulful and steadfast in your service to the students.

To the parents

8 years ago you trusted a 34 year old inexperienced rookie to be your principal.

Thank you for that trust in me. Thank you for being patient with me. Thank you for supporting me.

Your dedication, commitment, sacrifice and love that you extend to your children and this school has been a great source of inspiration to me.

To Reverend Father Vince 

I have seen and experienced Jesus through your pastoral compassion and generosity. Thank you for all you have  done for this school these students – often quietly and in the background.

I have been blessed to work with you and this school is blessed to have you.

To Mrs. Nannery

You are a master teacher. Your understanding of curriculum, assessment and literacy runs deep down to your core as a professional

Your care for students - for their learning and their overall well-being radiates from you

Thank you for being a mentor and inspiration both in the area of pedagogy and in my life  as father to my own children.

To Mr. Donnici

You are one of the corner stones of this community.

Next to your own family – your love and care for this school, the teachers and students is awe-inspiring

You've been a confident and trusted adviser.

More than that - you've become a friend and a bit of an older brother.

Of course I am looking forward to beating you on the golf course

To both Mrs Nannery, Mr. Donnici, and Mrs Jaffe, Mr. Laurless, and Mrs Kerin:

I want the world to know that whatever accolades or promotions I have received in connection to my principal-ship here at St. Pat’s - you deserve them more than me.

Your tireless work in the “day to day” running of the school - in service of the students - has been monumental.

Your exemplary service has allowed me to do the work that I've done.

I've appreciate your wisdom, advice and even our disagreements.

Please know that I could not have done this job without your unwavering support and faith in me.

I am eternally grateful to all of you.

And finally to you, the students:

You are my saints and heroes

You've made me angry, laugh and cry. Your genius and your joy has been the greatest source of inspiration.

Your faith, support and care for each other has allowed be to see Jesus with more clarity and purpose.

Your commitment to your work, each other, your community and this school has driven and inspired me to come to work full of joy each day.

Your intelligence, athleticism, service, leadership, creativity and your faith has made me a better teacher, father and Catholic Christian

Teaching, at its core, is about being of service to others.

As a teacher, you give in service, not expecting anything in return.

I stand before you feeling  a little guilty because in truth, I feel that I have received more from you than I have given you.

I leave you with with a wish....

Eight years ago, in my first week as principal, while talking to a student - they referred to St. Pat’s as sort of “second class” school.  I've never forgotten that conversation.  And it has motivated me these past eight years.

Let me be clear and to the point.

There is nothing second class about this school, its parents, its teachers or it’s students and the WORLD is hearing about it!

Just last week I was invited by the Ministry of Education here in BC - to speak to all ministry staff about the wonderful things happening right here at your school - St. Pat’s .

The "world" sees this school as a "1st class" school for British Columbia

So my wish?   Always be proud to call yourselves Celtics - Be proud of your school for it is a world class, 1st class Catholic School

Thank you and love you

Monday, June 10, 2013

Breaking Down Silos - Real Learning, Integration & Inquiry

Some new and exciting ideas are taking hold at St. Patrick Regional next year.

In a previous post I spelled our school's Digital Literacy goals and initiatives for 2013-2014.

In a future post I will also high light a new High Performance Program.  The program will formalizes our current practice of individualizing and accommodating student schedules and timetables to meet their out of school, passion driven, competitive needs.  We are seeing a growing need from parents and students to bridge the gap between school life and participation in high performance athletic or artistic community based endeavors.      
We are looking to break down curricular silos....

Another exciting development is in the area of Problem Based Learning .

Next year a working group of teachers will explore how an integrated, cross-curricular approach to curriculum delivery - incorporating “student inquiry”/problem based learning  - will "look like" at St. Patrick Regional.   This working group of teachers will explore the “ how and what” of this initiative and look to implement a trial program for September 2014.

We are living in different times. “Do I have to learn it if I can Google it?” is a legitimate question.

We are living in a time of information abundance. Teachers no longer need to control the flow of information. We do, however, need to worry about the scarcity at the table  of information abundance

The Ministry of Education for BC is transforming curriculum   to reflect some of these changes – placing a focus on competencies, skills, enduring understandings and yes, some content.

Learners today are demanding that their learning be “real”. Not pretend.

This year, one of our Building Experts  teams spent time learning about Problem Based Learning. Teachers experimented with PBL in their own classes. They faced many challenges, but in the end, teachers came to realize the trans formative potential of PBL for students

The team also came to realize the power of PBL was limited by the curricular silos that exist in our school.

This, in combination, with the proposed curriculum transformation happening in BC, the team decided that this would be the perfect time to THINK BIG!

The main recommendation from team to the school?  Remove curricular silos and create an integrated, cross-curricular approach to delivering curriculum through a problem based (inquiry based) pedagogy.

The team will consist of this year’s members in addition to others who are interested in joining this task force

What & How
The team’s mandate is to determine how our school can best implement this initiative - beginning at the Grade 8 level.

Other questions they must consider:

  • Will this involve all Grade 8 students? Or just a cohort?
  • How will inquires or “problems for exploration” be generated? What role will students and teachers have in this process?
  • How will assessment and grading be handled? What will report cards look like?
  • What are the scheduling and timetabling implications of this initiative? How can the school create a timetable that allows for both student and teacher collaboration and exploration.
  • How will parents be included and informed?

The goal is to have a a trial program in place prior to the start of school in September of 2014.

Some other thoughts:

Despite moving into a different role next year, I intend to support this team in developing this initiative. It is important.

We don’t want “paralysis through analysis”. Although there are lots of important questions that need to be answered, we should not think that we need to get it perfect.

Let's "real" student learning at the center of what we are doing.  More to the point- we should judge our efforts by the artifacts of learning our students will leave behind as a result of this program.

I like common sense.  Let’s keep our thoughts simple and intuitive. I have seen too many good ideas fail because the focus was too broad based. We are not going to change the “system” in one year. Let’s keep our focus on individual students and the artifacts of learning.

As look to shift some of our practices and systems, I am excited for what the future may hold for our teachers and students