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The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat
Le Secrétariat de la littératie et de la numératie
Unlocking Potential for Learning
Effective District-Wide Strategies
to Raise Student Achievement
in Literacy and Numeracy
Effective District-Wide Strategies
to Raise Student Achievement
in Literacy and Numeracy
Carol Campbell and Michael Fullan
Carol Campbell Michael Fullan Avis Glaze
The Effective District-Wide Strategies to Raise Student Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy Project
1. District’s Strategy and Actions
2. Connections Between District and Schools
3. Impact of District’s Strategies and Actions and Future Developments
The Eight Districts
Effective District-Wide Strategies to Raise Student Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy: Key Components
A. Leading with Purpose and Focusing Direction
1. Leadership for learning
2. Vision and shared focus on student achievement as the priority
3. Moral purpose informing practices to unlock potential for system, school, and student development
B. Designing a Coherent Strategy, Co-ordinating Implementation, and Reviewing Outcomes
4. Overarching strategy
5. Resources prioritized to focus on improved student achievement
6. Effective district organization
7. System and school-level monitoring, review, feedback, and accountability
C. Developing Precision in Knowledge, Skills, and Daily Practices for Improving Learning
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8. Capacity building and professional learning for teachers and principals
9. Curriculum development, instruction, and interventions to improve teaching and learning for all students
10. Use of data and development of assessment literacy
D. Sharing Responsibility through Building Partnerships
11. Positive and purposeful partnerships
Unlocking the Potential of District-Wide Reform
Schools and school systems all across the world are seeking ways of improving student achievement to respond to the growing public recognition of the importance of education for individual and societal progress and success. Ontario has adopted an exciting approach to supporting school improvement that is research and evidence based. Unlike many jurisdictions around the world that have adopted simplistic practices, Ontario has recognized that sustained improvement depends on schools, districts, and provinces adopting an aligned approach that builds the capacity of teachers, school leaders, boards, district leaders, parents, and community allies.
Ontario is putting that approach into practice in elementary schools through the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy and Secretariat, and in secondary schools through the Student Success Strategy. In both strategies, the Ministry of Education is closely working with schools and school districts to develop common approaches to meaningful change focused on improved school and classroom practices. We recognize that within these broad parameters there can be many different ways to proceed, taking into account the diverse demographics and contexts of Ontario schools.
The initial evidence is that these strategies are working. All the indicators of student progress are improving, and there is a renewed sense of energy and optimism in schools about the future. At the same time, we recognize that we are only at the beginning of the road.
The case studies in this collection illustrate the terrific work being done in boards as well as the significant challenges that must be addressed. The researchers and authors describe in detail the strategies being used by boards to create enthusiasm, to build teacher skills, to develop strong leadership, to involve the community, and to use data to guide improvement. They show that improvement must always be a collective effort no matter how significant a role some individuals may play.
They show that the school cannot do it alone although the school must also be committed to the possibility of improvement. They show the importance of tenacity and, as Robert Slavin put it, “the unrelenting pursuit of success for students.”
PROJECT REPORTThe cases in the Unlocking Potential for Learning series also show that while this great work is going on boards and schools must also manage a diverse range of other tasks and pressures. The realities of day-to-day schooling and board management cannot be left unattended either. It is indeed a fine balancing act, but these very diverse cases show how it can be – is being – done. They provide inspiration, ideas, and a map of sorts for other school leaders while also making it clear that the route will look a little different in each situation.
I am honoured to write some words of introduction to this collection, but even more to work with Ontario educators and communities for the benefit of our children.
No cause is more worthy of our effort.
Ben Levin Deputy Minister of Education September, 2006
4 EFFECTIVE DISTRICT-WIDE STRATEGIES TO RAISE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
IN LITERACY AND NUMERACY
INTRODUCTIONThis publication contains the overall report from the Effective District-Wide Strategies to Raise Student Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy research project conducted by The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat. The purpose of this project was to identify school boards that are demonstrating improvements in literacy and numeracy and to evaluate the strategies, actions, and outcomes associated with such improvements.
Eight school boards participated in the project – all boards are demonstrating improved student achievement. The boards were also selected because they represent the diversity of contexts and experiences in Ontario – urban/suburban/rural locations, small/medium/large numbers of schools, public/Catholic systems, French/English language and with improvement starting from existing higher or lower achievement levels. A selection of case study reports with details of strategies, practices, and outcomes in individual districts will also be published as part of the Unlocking Potential for Learning series.
We want to express our thanks to the directors of education in each of the eight districts for agreeing to participate in this project. We want also to thank all the educators we met with in these districts and schools for their insights and willingness to discuss effective strategies and for their work every day to support student achievement. We want to acknowledge also our colleagues on the Effective District Strategies project team, Dr. Carmen Maggisano and Dr. Carolyn Rees-Potter, Student Achievement Officers with The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, and Professor Marie Josée Berger of the University of Ottawa, and to thank them for their contributions to the case studies and to the project overall.
In this introduction, we put the Effective District Strategies project into context by outlining the provincial commitment and strategy for raising student achievement in literacy and numeracy.
In 2003, as part of a new government initiative, Ontario launched a major provincewide strategy to achieve substantial improvements in student achievement in literacy and numeracy. The starting point for reform was a five-year period of limited
A key element of the government’s strategy included the establishment of The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat to work in partnership with school districts and schools to support improvement in student achievement. Nine key strategies have
underpinned The Secretariat’s work:
1. Work with school boards to set achievement targets.
2. Assemble and support teams at all levels to drive continuous improvement in literacy and numeracy.
3. Reduce class sizes in the primary grades to a maximum of 20 students per class by 2007–2008.
4. Build capacity to support student learning and achievement.
5. Allocate resources to support target setting and improvement planning for literacy and numeracy.
6. Mobilize the system to provide equity in student outcome.
7. Embark on a process of community outreach and engagement to build support for the literacy and numeracy initiative.
8. Demonstrate a commitment to research and evidence-based inquiry and decision making.
9. Establish a growing presence on the national and international scene in learning from and contributing to the knowledge base about how to improve literacy and numeracy achievement.
The proposition was how to mobilize trilevel engagement in improvement involving the school and community, the district, and the government. We undertook to proactively use the change knowledge – what we call “capacity building with a focus on results” – to achieve major results within a short period of time. Some schools and districts were already moving in this direction – in this sense they were ahead of the government, but the new goal was to have system-wide change in all districts and school authorities.
6 EFFECTIVE DISTRICT-WIDE STRATEGIES TO RAISE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
IN LITERACY AND NUMERACYThe Secretariat is committed to fostering inquiry and identification of effective practices. This is reflected in our mission to challenge ourselves, educators, and the community to seek out best thinking and build upon effective practices to maximize student achievement in literacy and numeracy. One initiative along these lines – the one we report here – was to identify what is known on the ground about districtwide reform. We set out to identify districts that a) had seemed to have sound strategies at work and b) were getting results as indicated by trends in EQAO assessments. What we wanted to know was what was going on under different conditions as districts went about this difficult and important work. The district case studies reported on in this series are part of our strategic approach to inquiry in which we derive lessons from Ontario’s education system on an ongoing basis and report these findings and learning back to Ontario’s educators to inform practice and contribute to improvement. We know that together we can make a significant difference for student achievement through unlocking potential for learning.
PROJECT REPORTProject Report
This is a cross-case analysis of eight case studies of districts in Ontario, Canada, that are attempting to achieve district-wide improvement in literacy and numeracy at the elementary school level. We first put the study in context, then describe what we did and what we found, including lessons learned, and then take up next steps.
In 2003, as part of a new government initiative, Ontario launched a major, province wide-strategy to achieve substantial improvements in literacy and numeracy. The starting point for reform was a five-year period of limited improvement in performance where the overall percentage of 12-year-olds (Grade 6) achieving proficiency in literacy and numeracy was about 54%, based on provincial assessments carried out by the independent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).
In the fall of 2003, the new government launched a strategy designed to achieve major improvements in all elementary schools in the 72 districts that make up the public education system (English, and French language, public and Catholic).
The strategy includes:
• Setting a target of 75% of 12 year old students achieving at or above the provincial standard for 2008.
• Establishing The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat to work in a two-way partnership with districts and schools.
• Adding considerable new resources for literacy and numeracy, including materials, professional development, staffing, and initiatives linked to local and provincial needs.
• Negotiating, through The Secretariat, yearly aspirational targets and board improvement plans with each district.
• Engaging in capacity building, which includes focusing on district and school strategies for achieving improvement, such as developing school improvement teams, strengthening the role of the principal, helping schools develop collaborative learning cultures, and increasing assessment for learning capabilities at the school, district, and provincial level.
8 EFFECTIVE DISTRICT-WIDE STRATEGIES TO RAISE STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT
IN LITERACY AND NUMERACY
• Fostering lateral capacity-building, where schools and districts learn from each other about effective instructional practices in literacy and numeracy, and learn about effective change strategies for school- and district-wide improvement.
• Fostering a commitment to both raising overall student achievement levels and pursuing equity of outcomes by raising the bar and closing the gap in educational performance.
• A commitment to drawing on the wider knowledge base to inform the strategies, as well as a commitment to use knowledge to inform decisions as the strategy unfolded and to contribute to the growing knowledge base about large-scale reform.
The proposition was how to mobilize trilevel engagement in improvement involving the school and community, the district, and the government. The government undertook to proactively use the change knowledge – what we call “capacity building with a focus on results” – to achieve major results within a short period of time.
Some schools and districts were already moving in this direction. In this sense they were ahead of the government, but the new goal was to have system-wide change in all 72 districts.