Fort High deemed ‘success story’ for test results

Peggy Revell

EQAO test results have been released for schools across the province, and one of this year’s highlights includes Fort Frances High School being chosen as a “success story” for its accomplishments.
“The EQAO results are indicating that we are definitely on the right path,” noted Jack McMaster, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, who congratulated all local staff and elementary and secondary schools for their efforts.
Fort High also was featured for its EQAO results in the 2004-05 year, added McMaster.
FFHS isn’t the only strong school in the area, noted McMaster, who pointed to the strong results at other grade levels, with Grade 6 results increasing by 11 percent for reading and 10 percent in writing, and strong results in Grade 3, as well.
The EQAO results aren’t the only indicators that the board goes by, he added, with there also being a number of in-house assessments that show the board is moving in the right direction.
EQAO consists of annual province-wide testing of Grade 3 and 6 students in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics, and Grade 9 students in the area of mathematics. Students are tested to see if they are at or above the provincial standard of what the student should be able to do at the end of their year, based upon the curriculum, explained FFHS principal Gord McCabe.
For students in academic mathematics who took the EQAO, 88 percent scored at or above the provincial average. That’s up from 65 percent, back in 2003, and above the 75 percent provincial score.
“Until it’s actually administered, [the test] is pretty much shrouded in secrecy, just as the OSSLT is, so it’s not like the teachers have the test to teach to in advance,” McCabe said. “[Although] there is certainly lots of support material on the EQAO website to allow teachers to prepare students for the test.”
McCabe is very pleased with the results, and attributed the school’s success to the hard work that has been done by educators throughout the whole system, including the school’s numeracy team and the professional learning community. It’s these type of things that administrators of the EQAO look for when choosing schools as success stories.
“What we look for in the different regions for schools is either they sustained a high level of success at Level 3 or Level 4, or schools that have had an interesting progression, where the results improve year by year over time,” said EQAO executive co-ordinator Francois LaVictor on how schools are chosen to be success stories.
It’s a combination of factors, such as special programs or projects, after-school programs, structure, and board support, he noted.
There are many schools in a particular region that could qualify, LaVictor added, but the EQAO tries to pick one from each area to share with the province.
The EQAO then meets with the school’s principal and staff members to see what the school has achieved the results they achieved, so this success story can be told across the province.
Some things FFHS developed include moving math to the beginning of classes so that students are more likely to be there for that part of the lesson. Another thing that has motivated students, noted McCabe, is giving them the option to not write the final exam if they perform well on the EQAO test, and if their term mark and attendance has been good.
It’s something students have really bought into, he said.
“By providing the success story, the schools can look at what’s in here and contact that particular school if they want more detail about how they do it,” said LaVictor. “Even if they’re not from that region, they might have some good ideas to incorporate into their own improvement plans for the whole school.”
While the school may be featured as one of the province’s success stories, there’s still room for improvement, stressed McCabe, including sustaining and improving the results even further.
“We’re always looking for that elusive goal of 100 percent of our students reaching the provincial standard in academic.
“We recognize, however, that we also have a huge improvement to make in applied math,” added McCabe.
In the applied program, just 37 percent of Fort High students achieved the provincial standard or above, slightly above the board and provincial average. That number has risen since 2003, where it sat at 21 percent.
“The number of applied students reaching provincial standard across the province is nowhere near what I think any educator thinks it should be, and certainly in our board we’re ecstatic that our results have improved, but we know we’ve got a long way to go,” McCabe conceded.
“What we need to do now is look at the actual report in a detailed way,” he said. “We have a professional activity day on Sept. 26 and our numeracy team will be meeting on that day to really look at the EQAO results and develop strategies as to where we go from here, hopefully improve our applied results.”
“We have a number of plans,” said McMaster. “We have a system plan. We have school improvement plans and we also have curriculum plans and we ensure that all three lines are not working against each other.
“We’re all looking for a common goal.”
It’s important when looking at the EQAO results to look at the five-year pattern, noted McMaster.
“You just can’t take it one year at a time, and as pleased as we are at this one-year gain, we know that we want to keep improving, and so we look at patterns of growth,” he stressed.
“And you know that we end up with plateaus. There are times when you hit a plateau and you have to ask yourself what is the next step to help move us beyond that plateau.”
The EQAO advises that people looking at the results take into account certain factors, such as school or board size, overall trends for how the board has been doing, and what unique things about a school or community that would have an affect on the results.
As well, when schools have fewer students, overall results easily can be affected by even one student’s scores.
“And one thing we have to always remember is that every year, all of these tests are written by a different cohort. And sometimes you have a stronger cohort of students,” said McCabe.
The last group who did very well at the EQAO also went on to do score well on the OSSLT, he explained.
“We’ve got a huge Grade 9 group this year, the largest Grade 9 class I think in 10 years, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they do,” McCabe added.
“When [parents] see these results, I think they should be fairly confident that through our elementary system and through our high school system, that our students are getting a good grounding in mathematical knowledge,” continued McCabe.
“If our students are writing the provincial standardized tests and stacking up very well against students across the province, I think they should know that while they may be 1,500 km from Toronto, the math education [and] the overall education our students are getting is second-to-none,” he stressed.
Complete testing results for individual schools and boards can be found online at the EQAO’s website at www.eqao.com (results where less than 15 students in a school participated are not released due to concern for student privacy).