School board to tackle widening achievement gaps

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is tackling some significant student achievement challenges in the year to come.
Released in December, the 2010-2011 Strategic Improvement Plan for Student Achievement identified a number of board-wide trends of concern. Among those trends: a low percentage of students who report envisioning themselves graduating from high school and a growing achievement gap between students working in the academic level curriculum versus those at the applied/essential level.
Shifting demographics are also playing a significant role as self-identified aboriginal students now reflect 43 per cent of the student body, up 10 per cent from 2004.
While the number of students with special needs increased nominally over the past few years, those numbers continue to climb despite declining overall enrolment.
KPDSB Director of Education Jack McMaster says early intervention at the primary level is a large part of their strategy going forward.
“The research shows that if students are literate by the end of Grade 3, that success comes much easier,” said McMaster. “So we’re really making a push with literacy, in particular — comprehension.  The greatest learning curve is when the kids are the youngest. We’re trying to ensure that as many of our students are working to the provincial standards by the end of Grade 3.”
Yet, with scores declining overall on provincial standardized testing (EQAO), the board notes concerns with the effectiveness of their current literacy programming.
McMaster says the literacy program currently in place will be reviewed during the budget process.
“In preparation for a new budget we are reviewing all of our positions and effectiveness so we know better where we stand in respect to staffing,” he said. “Any new approaches we have learned or are looking at will be in place for next year. Part of this budget review is to look at what’s most effective in our board and the kind of money we’re spending on the things that are least effective practices and changing those.”
An achievement gap has also been identified between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students. McMaster says the board is working with aboriginal agencies to provide a more comfortable and culturally relevant learning environment for aboriginal students.
“When you look at the predictions for Canada to close the gap with aboriginal students, it’s over 28 years — we would very much like to reduce that,” he says. “Many of the kids that come into our system respond well to the caring approach and the kinds of strategies we’re using. We recognize that there are some challenges, but we welcome those challenges. The changing demographic is adding to the culture in our system.”
By Chris Marchand

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