Reform Through Assessment in Ontario Schools
Snider, Helen Jean
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Is there a connection between structural and cultural conditions in Ontario English Language Public schools and results in student achievement in Provincial large-scale assessment in Grade Three Writing? The hypothesis is that development of professional community and technical culture, supported by shared leadership for school improvement and parental involvement, build organizational capacity to achieve gains in student academic performance in large-scale assessment. Thirteen schools, thirteen principals, and eighteen teachers participated in the study. Four schools were identified as high-performance, four as medium-performance, and five as lower-performance schools based on Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) large-scale assessment results for 1997-98 and improvement/lack of improvement in performance from 1997-98 to 1998-99. The study concludes that reform through assessment tends to increase focus on program, student learning, student achievement, and school improvement. Familiarity with EQAO's purpose and format, technical changes in writing instruction, professional development support, and school goal setting significantly correlate with improvement in student performance. "Markers" for EQAO are viewed as respected and informed teacher leaders. Teachers like to spend time in markers' classrooms. Reform through assessment has resulted in more relevant teacher in-service. Teachers are using previous EQAO assessment questions to familiarize students and parents with the process and methodology of Provincial assessment. Teachers reported a need to share workload and indicated greater appreciation of each other's expertise. Evidence of increasing development of professional community in high-performance schools and a more 'technical culture" through use of more precise language, getting students to "explain your thinking", and increasing use of rubrics and journal writing emerged in the study. High-performance schools reported that a shared leadership model was developing. Parental support through better conceptual understanding of program and assessment and acceptance of responsibility for homework completion as an extension of classroom practice were viewed as important factors in successful school performance. Teachers and principals agreed that change in public education is needed. Teachers were generally not in agreement with the method of implementing increased accountability in their classrooms through large-scale assessment. A lack of expertise in the use of data to modify and improve instruction was viewed as a need for concentrated professional development.
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