Monday, January 25, 2010

Sue's motion on tracking achievement post- school closure

At the last board meeting- I requested information on student academic achievement after a school closure. The request did not have majority board approval to proceed, so it automatically became a motion to be debated tomorrow evening. I have included my speech here, for you to read. Any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.

In two weeks’ time, the Board will be making important decisions about the future of schools in the Hardisty area and the City Centre Project. I am not sure if closures will be a part of the administration’s recommendation because I haven’t seen it yet, but I think it is safe to assume that the likelihood of closure is high. Closures are, as we all know, emotional and difficult decisions. I know we all want to make the best possible decision: a decision that is fair and understandable- if not agreeable to all parties. And ultimately, we want a decision that reflects what is in the best interests of children.

I truly believe that everyone at this board table wants the very best for students. We are a group of people committed to children- to providing them with the best educational opportunities we can with the resources that we have at our disposal. We all want kids to succeed, to embrace learning, to thrive and to feel excited and optimistic about their bright futures after completing grade 12. As part of our on-going work, we actively consider how to make their experience the best it can be with EPSB.

During the review of the Sustainability Process last year, the Ad Hoc committee heard from several community members and parents that they wanted us to track student achievement following a closure. In essence, they wanted us to keep an eye on how the kids were doing. On page 26 of the Dialogue Partners’ report this desire for transition monitoring is reiterated: “Need to consider how to support the community, kids post closure.” I think this is a reasonable request and a responsible part of successful transitioning following a change as significant as a school closure. If there are patterns in student achievement, we should be willing to examine them and learn from them. If we don’t look at this- we simple won’t know- we will be making our best guess. We must be willing to look at the data to make informed choices. Otherwise, we are making hollow promises to parents saying that their child will ultimately benefit from a closure.

When I put this forward as a request for information two weeks ago, there were concerns that our administration would not be able to provide conclusive data and that the results could be muddied by other factors, like if the child had suffered a divorce at the same time. I would say that the challenge of conflicting influences is true for all data collection. Can we really be certain that a program is the cause of the high achievement or is the economic capabilities of the parents and the summer trip to Europe that is responsible? Do we know for sure that’s the school size, the class size or the excellent teaching that makes great grades- or is it all three? And yet, we still try to determine patterns and possible connections to strengthen our evidence-based decision-making. The only thing this particular group of kids will have in common is the experience of going through a school closure. Presumably, the likelihood of divorce or some other loss is the same in this population, as any other student population we might want to disaggregate. I don’t think the "muddying argument" is anymore relevant here than with any other form of data collection.

To be clear, I have absolutely no idea what the outcomes of this report will be. I have heard stories of children’s grades dropping sharply following a closure. I’ve also heard from one parent that their child is flourishing in the new school, but these are anecdotal reports and I cannot draw any conclusions from them. As I see it, there are three possible outcomes: children on average do better following a closure, children on average do worse, or on average, it’s inconclusive: some children do better, some do worse, some do the same. If there is a clear indication that they do better- I think parents facing a closure would want to know that. To me, that would be very reassuring news. If there is a clear indication they do worse- parents will need to be aware of that problem and we as a board will need to weigh this information very carefully. If the result is inconclusive, then we can honestly tell parents that it is inconclusive and recommend some strategies to help their child successfully transition. "Inconclusive" is still better news, to me,  that a notable drop in achievement.

As a board, if we see better academic outcomes following a closure, we can feel assured that our decisions are in the best educational interests of children. If the results are inconclusive, we will need to be clear about the drivers for our decisions- we can’t honestly say we are closing schools because we feel the education at the receiving school will be better and the children themselves will do better when the evidence is not clear and does not actually support this idea. If the report indicates a negative impact on educational outcomes, we must be willing to include this information in our deliberations and to consider, if closure is ultimately still deemed necessary due to other factors, how those negative educational impacts might be mitigated with additional resources or supports.

In short, I believe this information is important to consider when we reviewing administrative recommendations in two weeks’ time and I hope the board will approve this motion.

1 comment:

Grovenor said...

Hi Sue. How did things work out at the meeting?