Tim Caleval, from the Ministry of Education, presented to our class on February 27th, 2014. Tim has a great wealth of knowledge about assessment practices. Based on the “Saskatchewan Plan for Growth: Vision 2020 and Beyond” by the Government of Saskatchewan, the Ministry of Education has a priority: increasing education success for our First Nations learners. The document outlines the current grad rate disparity:
“In 2010-11, over 72 per cent of Saskatchewan students graduated “on-time” (within three years of entering grade 10) compared to 32.7 per cent of self-declared Aboriginal students. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Education also tracks “extended time graduation,” recognizing that some students require more time to complete Grade 12. The extended time graduation (five years after entering Grade 10) rates are 81.1 per cent for all students and 48.1 per cent for self-identified Aboriginal students. The consequences of the education difference in financial terms are significant” (p. 20).
The document outlines an ambitious goal of reducing “the Grade 12 graduation disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in the K-12 system by 50 per cent by 2020” (p. 40). In order to achieve this goal, we need to focus on a multi-cultural approach to learning and assess our students to monitor progress. Once we improve the education gap, there will be less of an employment gap for First Nations and Metis people in Saskatchewan. Much of the success of this goal comes from within the classroom and relies on teachers to create an inclusive and culturally responsive classroom.
Tim Caleval noted that “our future for boosting education success rates relies on First Nations students.” Therefore, the Ministry of Education will be focusing on this goal above all others. Tim noted that there are other goals and issues to address, such as a lack of consistency in grade reporting among the school divisions. He outlined some researched assessment practices that have been proven to be detrimental to students: not giving enough practice time, quizzes/tests to punish, late marks etc. However, he would not give his opinion on behavior counting in the overall grade since this is a divisive subject. I believe that if I were a parent I would want to know how my child was acting but I would not want them to be graded on it. Furthermore, as an inclusive educator I think we disadvantage our learners with various abilities by grading their behaviors. Grades need to reflect students’ knowledge of the outcomes. However, this does not mean we only focus on these things, as our Broad Areas of Learning and Cross Curricular Competencies largely focus on behavior.
Another goal that the Ministry of Education needs to address is increasing “the number of Grade 3 students reading at “grade level” by 20 per cent by 2015” (p. 61). As an English major, I know all too well that Grade 3 is the age where we stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Not reading at grade level can be detrimental to future achievement and therefore, graduation and employment. If students are not reading at grade level, we simply will not achieve the graduation rates we desire. In order to accomplish this goal we need improve the overall classroom experience: collaboration, curriculum, assessment, and instruction (p. 62). I also think we need to rely more on collaboration with Learning Resource Teachers and other specialized professionals. Tim noted that in the Sates they decide how many jail cells to open based on Grade 3 reading levels. I am proud to be part of a system that focuses on improvement and optimism. Instead of opening up jail cells, I truly believe educators and superiors are trying to adapt the system to meet the needs of all learners and bridge the achievement gap. We can see this in our schools from the First Nations and Metis Education Plan that focuses on literacy or our tiered instruction that is being implemented. The goals that our government has targeted are quite ambitious but I think with a little hard work and inclusion, they are manageable. We might as well set the bar high!