Students come to school to grow, and the Fraser-Cascade School District is hopeful that this year’s growth plan will help better its students in all areas of their learning.
At the school board meeting on May 27, superintendent Karen Nelson presented this year’s District Growth Plan to the board, along with its two new goals for 2019-2020 and beyond: promote inclusiveness in SD78 and have all students reading at grade level by Grade 3.
“We do update our objectives on a regular basis in conjunction with our partner groups,” Nelson said. The three goals that have been in place for a while in SD78 are literacy, aboriginal education and transition rates.
The growth plan is a “holistic view,” Nelson said, and one that aims to look at all aspects of a student’s growth throughout school.
“We focus on academic achievement, we focus on intellectual ability. We focus on careers; we focus on physical, social, emotional,” she said. “And we focus on inclusiveness, ensuring that all students feel welcome and safe in our schools.”
The growth plan looks at data from a number of different sources, including the Early Development Instrument (EDI), which looks at vulnerabilities in Kindergarten students; Foundation Skills Assessment tests, which mark Grade 4 and 7 students across the province on reading, writing and numeracy skills; report card marks; grade-to-grade transition rates and high school completion rates. It also includes suggestions from stakeholders such as the District Parents’ Advisory Council (DPAC).
On the whole, the district has more concerns with its elementary students than its high school students. Although six-year completion rates are still below the provincial average for all students and just First Nations students, the numbers have been consistently increasing over the last couple years.
(Interestingly, the completion rates for male students was at 68.9 per cent in 2017-2018, while the rate for female students was only 58.5 per cent. Nelson told the board that the District is looking into why that might be.)
The number of students successfully moving from grade to grade in high school is also increasing, albeit not to the levels they were in 2012-13, although the numbers are still well-below target levels.
For students in Kindergarten to Grade 7, however, the District has more concerns.
UBC has a program which measures the “vulnerability” of Kindergarten-age students. This program, called the Early Development Instrument, or EDI, looks at different areas where these students might be struggling.
“We continue to be one of the Districts that has the highest vulnerability in the province,” Nelson said during the school board meeting. “About 50 per cent of our students are vulnerable entering Kindergarten.”
The language and cognitive domain shows the least amount of vulnerability, which Nelson attributes to the success of programs like Storytime in the Park and the District’s Strong Start program.
But the highest area of vulnerability continues to be physical health and well-being.
“Some people think that means that children aren’t having enough access to physical activity outside,” Nelson said. “It’s really about children who are not well when they come to school, looking at … whether or not they have a warm coat to wear.
“These are all sorts of things that we continue looking at.”
For slightly older students, the data indicates there could be a concern with reading and numeracy skills for Grade 4 and 7 students.
In this year’s FSA results, there was a significant improvement in the student’s writing marks. However, Grade 4 students actually had a decline in their reading and numeracy skills from the year before.
FSA results “need to be reviewed with caution,” Nelson said. “They’re based on low participation rates. But we’ve seen a decline in Grade 4 and 7 reading and numeracy … and Grade 7 numeracy is particularly worrisome.”
Notably, she added, “those marks do not align at all with our report card marks” which see a majority of students meeting or exceeding expectations in reading and numeracy.
The reason for the discrepancy isn’t clear — it likely has something to do with the fact that only 50 per cent of students choose to participate in the FSA — but it did bring up some discussion from board members at the May 27 meeting.
Trustee Ron Johnstone, in particular, found the difference between reading and writing quite unusual.
“I look in terms of music. If you can’t read music, you can’t write music,” he said. “So if you’re writing and you’re doing well, you certainly must be reading well.”
“That’s an area where we’re obviously going to dive in a little bit more, whether that’s an accurate reflection or not,” he added.
Although Nelson presented the updated District Growth Plan to the school board on May 27, there’s still more to be done to prepare for next year.
Teachers will be sharing their data they’ve collected over the year with the District, which will then be used to add more detail to the data already available in the report. SD78 is also continuing conversations with DPAC to figure out what particular objectives should fall under the overarching goal of inclusivity.
(One of the suggested objectives was to increase the target for special education students who attain a Dogwood Diploma from 70 per cent to 75 per cent, reflecting the same target for all students in the District.)
As for the District’s new goal of getting all students reading at grade level by Grade 3, Nelson said there are some steps in place already to make that happen.
“We’re looking at data management, we’re monitoring student success,” she said. “Our schools are also implementing some new reading programs that they have adapted for our elementary school level.
“They’re looking at that to support student success as well.”
In addition, a new data collection tool will allow teachers to monitor student success throughout the year.
“We feel that is going to assist in monitoring the progress of our students,” Nelson said.
Collaboration between teachers is also something that will be high on the District’s priority list to help ensure increased student success.
“It’s one of the strongest things that we can do, is bring teachers together to share best practices,” Nelson said. “Our teachers are our experts. They know what works for the students in their classroom.”