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Provincial Achievement Test Results: A Detailed Discussion

Recently our district published our PAT and Diploma Exam results in the Western Catholic Reporter and the Edmonton Examiner.  Because the numbers published in these ads do not show the nuances of our results, I thought it might be of interest to the public if I published them here.  Please note that since our province is phasing out the PAT exams in favour of Student Learning Assessments (SLATs), there is no discussion of Grade 3 results since Grade 3 students in our district did not write the PAT exams in the 2013/2014 school year. The results given are for the Acceptable Standard which means students scored above 50% and Standard of Excellence which means scores above 80%.

The results are published according to different groupings such as:

  • just the students who showed up for the exam (called a partial cohort)
  • the results from students who showed up combined with those who did not (these latter would have received a 0)
  • students who wrote the exams in English
  • students who wrote the exams in French
  • all students who wrote the exams in English and French
  • the results according to each grade (3, 6, 9 and 12/diploma)
  • the results according to year so that we can see whether students are improving or not from one year to the next

This year ECSD students had a high participation rate in the exams compared to the province across all subjects (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies).  For example, in subjects written in English, here are the average participation rates compared to the province: ECSD Grade 6:  94.78% versus Province:  89.73%; ECSD Grade 9:  93.48% versus Province:  88.53%; ECSD Grade 9 Knowledge and Employability:  93.9% versus Province 84.10%. So how does our district compare to the province?  For ease of comparison, I will show the results for only those students who wrote the exams (partial cohort) and results for exams written in French and English (aggregate results).  It goes without saying that if our district had a higher participation rate than the province, then our students would have received fewer zeros so if we want to compare “apples with apples” then let’s compare results for just those who actually wrote the exam. Beginning with Grade 9 students, you will see that these students are awesome!  These numbers show that the ECSD Grade 9 students’ results were consistently higher than the province for both standards except Standard of Excellence in Mathematics.  Congratulations to all teachers and staff who were instrumental in providing these results for our district. These numbers are very encouraging!

ECSD % Provincial %
English Language Arts Acceptable Standard 89.5 86.4
Standard of Excellence 21.2 17
Mathematics Acceptable Standard 77.2 74.4
Standard of Excellence 17.7 19.1
Science Acceptable Standard 85.2 81.5
Standard of Excellence 28.2 24.7
Social Studies Acceptable Standard 78.1 73.6
Standard of Excellence 25.1 23.0

The Grade 9 Knowledge and Employability results however are mixed.  What is the Knowledge and Employability program?  According to Alberta Education “The Knowledge and Employability courses are designed for students who meet the criteria and learn best through experiences that integrate essential and employability skills in occupational contexts. The courses provide students opportunities to enter into employment or continue their education”.  This program applies to students in grades 8 – 12.  The following are the results for this group of students (the exams are only written in English and reflect the results of only those who wrote the exams).

ECSD % Provincial %
English Language Arts Acceptable Standard 86.0 78.4
Standard of Excellence 7 4.4
Mathematics Acceptable Standard 69.0 73.6
Standard of Excellence 12.1 16.9
Science Acceptable Standard 71.9 75.5
Standard of Excellence 8.8 17.6
Social Studies Acceptable Standard 71.2 73.3
Standard of Excellence 8.5 12.7

The 2013-2014 results show that our district surpassed the province in one subject only – English Language Arts. Looking at the results going back 5 years to the 2009/2010 school year, our K and E students were above the provincial acceptable standard 14 times throughout the past 5 years and only below it 4 times.  On the other hand, in the Standard of Excellence category, the results were below the provincial average 15 times across the 4 subjects and only above 4 times (we tied with the province one time). Is there cause for concern?  I would prefer to see that our K and E students were at least at provincial average in both standards.  I would suggest that these students may need additional resources since this year our scores were lower than the province in 3 out of 4 subject areas and in both standards.  I also believe this because our scores on the Standard of Excellence have been consistently lower than the provincial average over the last 5 years. Here are the Grade 6 results (again only those who wrote the exam and in English and French):

Grade 6 ECSD % Province %
English Language Arts Acceptable 90.7 90.6
Excellence 19.7 19.5
French Language Arts Acceptable 95.4 90.1
Excellence 15.9 15.9
Mathematics Acceptable 82.1 81.1
Excellence 15.4 17.0
Science Acceptable 84.0 84.2
Excellence 24.2 27.6
Social Studies Acceptable 79.0 78.7
Excellence 16.5 18.6

These results show that our Grade 6 students score around the provincial average — either slightly above in some cases or slightly below. The results for our Grade 12 Diploma students are as follows.  In this case the results reflect the full cohort meaning both those who wrote the exams and those who did not and the results for exams written in English and French:

ECSD %

Provincial %

Above/Below Provincial Average

English Language Arts 30-1

65.0

64.1

above

English Language Arts 30-2

66.8

65.9

above

Social Studies 30-1

64.2

64.5

below

Social Studies 30-2

62.8

64.3

below

French Language Arts 30-1

65.8

68.2

below

Mathematics 30-1

61.1

63.9

below

Mathematics 30-2

60.2

60.1

above

Science 30

68.1

67.5

above

Biology 30

68.0

68.9

below

Chemistry 30

66.1

68.2

below

Physics 30

67.8

68.8

below

So out of 11 possible subjects, ECSD grade 12 students’ diploma marks were above the provincial average in 4/11 subjects and below the provincial average in 7/11 subjects.  As you can see by the numbers, the differences are very slight in comparison to the province showing that our students are on par with the  province.

In regards to the PAT results for our students in French Immersion, I will not comment on Grade 3 French results because the PATs were being phased out beginning with this grade.  The grade 9 French marks were mostly all above the provincial average as mentioned was the case for the combined results of English and French.  The good news story this year was the improvement in our French Grade 6 marks.  For a number of years, our Grade 6 French PAT results lagged behind the province but this year great gains can be seen:

ECSD %

Provincial %

French Language Arts Acceptable Standard

95.4

90.1

Standard of Excellence

15.9

15.9

Mathematics Acceptable Standard

86.6

85.3

Standard of Excellence

15.5

16.9

Science Acceptable Standard

87.4

84.1

Standard of Excellence

18.1

19.7

Social Studies Acceptable Standard

84.0

75.1

Standard of Excellence

13.0

11.1

Comparing the results from 2012/2013 school year, the percentage of Grade 6 French Immersion students increased in all subject areas for both the Acceptable Standard and the Standard of Excellence.  In the case of French Language Arts and Social Studies, these increases were over 10%.  In Science and Mathematics, these increases were over 8% so these results are very good news.

In summary, I hope that  this more in depth analysis gives a good understanding of where our district stands in comparison to the province for grades 6, 9 and 12.  I reiterate, that the numbers I have mentioned in my analysis are for those students who actually wrote the exams.  Because of our higher participation rate, our marks would of course be higher due to fewer zeros being given for non attendance. By removing the attendance factor, I believe a true picture of our students can be seen.

Catholic Education Forum: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 7 pm at St. John Evangelist Parish

What is Catholic education? Why is it needed? Who should care?

Members of the Catholic community are invited to discuss Catholic education and the significant role it plays in the saving mission of the Church.  Father Stefano Penna, Vice President of Newman Theological College, will lead the forum and discussion. The first of two evening sessions will take place on Thursday, November 20th at St John the Evangelist Parish (9830- 148 Street).  There is no charge and no registration.  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at 587-879-5612.

Catholic Education Sunday, 2014

One of the traditions my husband and I have established in our household is to read to our children at bed time—this includes reading from a children’s bible.  Last week, my 6 year old son Vincent asked me enthusiastically if we could read the story about “the man on the road”…I didn’t quite know which one he meant.  “You know”, he said, “the one about the guy that came along and helped the guy on the road”.  “Oh” I said, “you mean the story about the Good Samaritan”.  “Yes, yes!” he exclaimed “that’s the one!”  It struck me that he learned the story of the Good Samaritan in his grade 1 class at his Catholic school and it left a deep impression on him.  Meanwhile I was so happy that as a Catholic parent I had the school as an ally in teaching my children the beauty of our faith.  How very blessed we are in this province to have the opportunity to send our children to publicly funded Catholic schools!

So on this Catholic Education Sunday we take time to be grateful for our Catholic schools and pray that all of us – clergy, parishioners, parents, trustees, administrators, students, teachers and support staff — will work together to realize our schools’ evangelizing mission and that our schools may be true, authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.

Last February I had the opportunity to attend the Alberta Catholic School Trustee’s Symposium on Catholic Education with Dr. Reginald Bibby and Archbishop of Vancouver Michael Miller.  They gave presentations on how our schools can be agents of evangelization and how we can be assured that our schools are authentically Catholic.

Reginald Bibby who is a Sociology professor from the University of Lethbridge, spoke of the great opportunity that we have as Catholic schools to reach out to latent and inactive Catholics.  So many people today he noted, are searching for ministry rather than a church.  He suggested that those families that are struggling with divorce, poverty, raising children alone, could benefit from services we provide through our schools. Professor Bibby suggested that if we want to touch people’s lives, touch their families – give them grace through our schools to make their lives easier.  By doing this we are witnesses of how faith improves lives.  I believe that our school district does a lot to be such witnesses by, for example, providing after school care programs in the Schools as Community Hubs initiative.  This program offers a place for older students to be involved in constructive and edifying activities until their parents return from work.

Another initiative is the Graduation Coach model where each aboriginal student is mentored through their transition from junior high to high school and then through their high school years.  This program has led to our aboriginal graduation rate going from 19% in 2009 to 60% in 2013 at one school alone.  These are only 2 examples of many that I could share with you today, that show how our schools reach out to those in need and which in elevating the student, elevates the whole family.  The family then sees how faith does improve their lives.  Is there more that we can do to evangelize our students and families?  Absolutely!  I believe we should always strive to improve our schools’ ministry to others.

At the same symposium, Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller suggested that there are 5 marks of Catholic education which can be used to evaluate what makes our schools authentically Catholic. These 5 marks include:

1. Having a Christian understanding of the human person so that our students are taught of their “transcendent dignity”.  They are taught how to live in this world, but with their eyes fixed on the goal of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Miller notes that the Catholic vision of our schools “rejects understanding the role of education as merely an instrument to prepare future generations for the needs of the marketplace.”  Our schools he suggests “foster the life of the soul” and relate career choices to a person’s unique vocation in Christ.

2. A second mark of Catholic schools is that they are permeated with a Catholic world view. Everything that students come to believe and accept is determined by the attitude, the stance toward life which the school fosters in them.

3. Thirdly, an authentic Catholic school has faith permeated throughout the curriculum so that students think and evaluate facts in light of their faith and its values. So the curriculum would help students reflect on the problems of our time, including those where injustice, poverty and the denial of human rights are widespread and systemic.

4. Fourthly, an authentically Catholic School has teachers and staff who are personal witnesses of the Gospel. Reverend Miller cautions that children and young people “are quick to perceive any discrepancies between word and deed.  They thirst for authenticity”.  So it is important that the adults in our schools live according to their own faith in and love for Jesus.

5. And lastly, authentic Catholic Schools are shaped by a spirituality of communion which means that the educational mission of our schools is carried out in a spirit of cooperation between students, parents, teachers, support staff, bishops, administrators and trustees. By working together in a spirit of a shared mission, our schools move from being institutions to being a true community in Christ.

Archbishop Miller suggested that we can use these 5 marks to evaluate our Catholic schools in an effort not to be punitive but for the sake of moving from “good” or “very good” to “great”. For your information, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Associations is currently considering using Archbishop Miller’s 5 marks as a way to do a province wide evaluation of our schools. As a candidate for school trustee I ran on the platform of ensuring that our Catholic schools are true authentic witnesses of our Catholic faith.  After a year as a school trustee, I can say that our district works hard to ensure our Catholic identity.  It does this through morning prayers, social justice activities, school masses, Faith Development days and Newman Theological courses for our teachers, to name a few.  But is there more that we can do to enhance our schools’ Catholic identity?  I believe there is and I ask you on this Catholic Education Sunday, to pray for our students, our staff and our trustees, that we may work together so that in the words of Pope Francis, our Catholic schools may continue to be “a precious means for making a contribution to the progress of the Church and of society as a whole”.

Archbishop Miller has written a book in which he discusses Catholic education.  It is called The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools.  Another book that he referenced at the Symposium which may be of interest is Challenges for Catholic Schools in Canada by James Mulligan.

Two of my fellow trustees and I are organizing a Forum on Catholic Education at St. John Evangelist Parish(9830 – 148 st.) on Thursday, November 20, 7 pm.  All are welcome and there is no charge and registration is not required. There will be an address by Fr. Stefano Penna, Vice President of Newman Theological College followed by a panel discussion and questions from the floor.

Success for FNMI Students: Graduation Coach Initiative

A couple of weekends ago I gave my Report Back to the Community to Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples during which I spoke of the wonderful success we have been having at ECSD with improving our 3 year graduation rate for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students using an innovative model called the “Graduation Coach Initiative”.  I shared with the congregation information from our district website:  “since its implementation in 2009, the FNMI Graduation Coach Initiative at St. Joseph High School has increased the three-year graduation rate of FNMI students from 14.9% to 60.4% by supporting the transition of students from junior high and retaining students as they progress through high school…the role of the graduation coach is to provide mentoring and guidance to FNMI students to ensure they are provided with a nurturing and safe environment that supports them as they find a sense of competence and achievement”.  I received great applause from the congregation showing a great desire for their children to succeed in our school system and graduate with a high school diploma.  After mass, a young man approached me to say that he was a teacher from Saskatchewan, visiting our district to learn more about how we implement the Graduation Coach Model so that he could bring this model back to his district.  We can be very proud of the work that our district has been doing with our FNMI students and even see ourselves as leaders in this area.  This truly is something to celebrate!

The ECSD website goes on to say that graduation coaches are available in many of our high schools including Archbishop Oscar Romero, Archbishop O’Leary, and St. Francis Xavier as well as St. Joe’s.

For more information about this program go to (https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Graduation-Coach-Initiative.aspx).  For a full list of supports that we offer our FNMI students go to https://www.ecsd.net/Programs/Overview/AboriginalLearning/Pages/Aboriginal-Learning.aspx

Why I Do Not Go to the Annual Jasper Park Lodge Retreat and Other Issues of Fiscal Responsibility

This week, our superintendent, senior administration, principals and trustees are attending an annual retreat at the Jasper Park Lodge. There are 3 trustees from our board who choose annually not to attend this retreat.  I cannot speak for my fellow trustees, but the reason I have chosen to skip this meeting is first of all because I believe that this retreat should be held in a Catholic retreat centre closer to home (Providence Renewal Centre comes to mind) which would cost our district much less money for both travel and accommodation and would provide the ambiance of a true retreat.  By holding our retreat at a Catholic retreat centre, we would also be supporting a valued Catholic institution rather than a commercial one such as the Jasper Park Lodge.

I am also concerned about the optics of holding retreats at Jasper Park Lodge (JPL).  I know from speaking with previous trustees on the board that this fall retreat at the JPL has always been controversial for the district. I have never stayed at the JPL due to my inability to afford it but I have wandered through it while on camping trips and I see why it has a reputation for being a posh hotel.  I had a conversation last year with a parent who happened to be at the JPL when our district was holding its annual retreat and she said she was quite surprised that our district was holding their event at such a posh location. So the optics just are not good.

To be fair, the district does get a “good deal” as I am told, because October is low season for the JPL.  The average cost for the 4 trustees to attend the retreat at JPL last October was $860 each.  There are 88 schools so 88 principals attending which comes to $75,680.  Add to that 1 superintendent, 4 trustees and a number of senior administrators (not sure exactly how many but I would guess 10) which adds up to $12,900.  All told, the cost of the retreat at JPL would be around $88,580.  I personally have a hard time spending this amount of money for a JPL retreat when we have other priorities in our district including giving more support to special needs students as well as their teachers.  The issue of adequate supports for inclusion was one of 4 issues flagged by the C2 Committee as being of very high concern for teachers.  Parents of special needs children have also flagged this as a concern.  In 2010/2011 81.7% were satisfied with inclusive programming and in 2011/2012 81.5% were satisfied.  But in 2013/2014 this number dropped to 77.9% (I was unable to find the % for 2012/2013). This is a 3.8% drop over 4 years showing that this is becoming a concern for parents.  I have also heard directly from parents and teachers that they are very frustrated with the lack of supports for special needs children.  In fact, I spoke to 3 families during the election last year who had moved their special needs children over to the public system because EPSB offers more supports.  But I digress…

I know from speaking to the chair of the EPSB that they do not hold large retreats such as we do with trustees, senior staff, superintendent and principals.   Instead, their principals meet together locally in their own facilities for their corporate meetings; the Board and administration and some senior staff will meet either locally or at Pigeon Lake in different groupings but none of them exceeding 22 people.  Paula Simons wrote an article about how the EPSB used to hold their board retreat in Jasper or Pigeon Lake but this year they chose to stay closer to home in an effort to be more fiscally responsible. (go to http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Simons+Dentyne+Cheezies+Edmonton+Public+Schools+boring+expense+reports+actually+pretty+exciting/10253668/story.html.)

So I don’t think I am far off the mark to suggest that if we feel it is necessary to get everyone together for one large retreat, that we do it locally, at a less expensive location and even at a Catholic facility which would be more in keeping with our mission as Catholic schools.

In regards to my own expenses go to https://www.ecsd.net/BoardofTrustees/Reports-and-Resources/remuneration%20_expenses/Pages/Trustee-Remuneration-and-Expenses-Info.aspx for what I have charged to taxpayers since becoming a trustee in October 2013.  Please note that the items listed in my expenses include the expenses made by the previous Ward 71 trustee.  The public needs to know that I attended a number of conferences in the 2013 – 2014 school year which I will not be attending this year due to the fact that 2013 was the first year I was elected as a trustee.  Because I was a new trustee, I attended the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) New Trustee conference and the the ASBA Spring Legal conference.  As well, though I attended the ASBA Spring General Meeting last year, I did not find it very informative so this year I will only be attending the Fall ASBA conference in November. You will also note that I did not attend the Jasper Park Lodge retreat last year as well as this year.  So you will see a significance difference in my expenses in the 2014-2015 school year as compared to the 2013-2014 year.

Though I will be attending fewer conferences this year, I still believe that it is important to go to conferences/retreats — especially conferences organized by ASBA and ACSTA (Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association) of which we as a board of trustees are card carrying members.  As a trustee I find the ASBA and ACSTA provide wonderful opportunities for professional development and for the sharing of ideas between trustees from both public and Catholic districts across Alberta.

In short, I have no issue with having retreats, meetings, and conferences.  I just believe that there are ways to do this in fiscally responsible ways and ways which put our students first–especially our most vulnerable.  I believe that this approach is in keeping with our mission as Catholic schools.

Parish and School Visits 2014

I have been working hard to get in touch with my Ward 71 constituents by visiting parishes and schools. So far I have managed to visit St. Edmund Parish, St. Philip Orthodox Church, St. Andrew Centre and Parish, St. Vladimir, and Shepherd’s Care Kensington.  I will be visiting Holy Rosary parish Sept. 27 and 28, Sacred Heart Parish October 5, St. Charles Parish November 8 and 9 and Our Lady of Guadalupe (no firm date set as yet).  I have been fortunate to speak at some of these parishes and at least hand out my Report Back to the Community which gives an outline of some of the things I have done since being elected.

I have also managed to visit St. Basil, St. Pius X, St. Angela, Katherine Therrien, and St. Mark schools where I handed out over 300 Report Back flyers to parents attending the Meet the Teacher/Welcome Back BBQ.  One parent thought I was at the school because I was seeking election!  I thought that this was very telling:  that the only time parents see their trustee is when there is an election!  I hope to change that by being more available to parents so I can hear their concerns.

The public needs to know that trustees are not permitted to drop in on schools at any time.  The district has a policy that trustees are only allowed on school property if invited by the principal.  Because of this policy I suggest that if parents wish me to attend school events, that they request the principal to extend an invitation to me.   In the mean time, I will make every effort to be available on the sidewalk at the front of the school when school events are on in order to meet with my constituents. Another way to get in touch with me is by phoning my cell at 587-879-5612 or by email at patricia.grell@ecsd.net.

An Important Note about Notices of Motion and Requests for Information

It is important for the public to know that when a trustee makes a Notice of Motion at the end of a public meeting or requests information from the administration, these go to an “Agenda Setting Committee”.  This committee is comprised of the Chair, Vice Chair, Superintendent and Board Secretary.  This committee decides whether the item is of value or not to the rest of the Board and if it is, then it gets on the public board agenda.  If they deem it is not of value, it will not be placed on the agenda.  I have a concern with regards to this committee because 50% of the membership is held by people who are not elected — namely the superintendent and the board secretary.  I believe that all of the trustees should have a vote on what makes it on to their agenda for their meeting.  Certainly, we should consult with the administration whether they believe the item could be addressed in another manner but the final say of what goes on to the agenda should be made by the trustees who are elected by the public to represent their views.  Please be assured that I will be raising this issue as we revise our Board policies in the upcoming months.

Update as of October 21, 2014:  Our new Chair Debbie Engel has suggested that if a notice of motion does not make it through the agenda setting committee, we can bring the motion to the next public board meeting and add it to the agenda.  At this time, the whole board and public can hear the rationale of why the trustee wishes to bring this motion forward.  All trustees can then vote on whether they wish to discuss the matter further at the current or future public board meeting.   I welcome this suggestion by Chair Engel!

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