NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Re: Report Card Changes
& Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Chuck Porter (Chairman)
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. David Wilton
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
Ms. Marian Mancini
[Mr. Chuck Porter was replaced by Mr. Iain Rankin]
[Mr. Gordon Wilson was replaced by Mr. Bill Horne]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
Ms. Sandra McKenzie
Ms. Sue Taylor-Foley
Executive Director, Education, Innovation, Programs and Services
Ms. Kimberley Jackson
Coordinator PTGB Implementation
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Chuck Porter
MS. JOYCE TREEN (Chairman): I’d like to call the meeting to order, please. This is the Standing Committee on Human Resources. My name is Joyce Treen. I am the MLA for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage, and I am the vice-chairman.
In addition to our ABCs today, we will be receiving a presentation from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development on report card changes. I ask that all the members please state your name.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I ask everyone if they could put their phones on vibrate or silent, please. The washrooms and the coffee are available outside. If there should be a tragedy and we need to leave for a fire, please go to Granville Street.
I would like to welcome the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and I ask if you would please introduce yourselves.
[The committee witnesses introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, and if you would like to start your presentation.
MS. SANDRA MCKENZIE: Just a few opening remarks: I want to thank the committee for inviting us here today to talk about changes to report cards that reflect work on a new curriculum. As we enter the final month of this current school year, I know a lot of students and their families are looking forward to receiving their final report card of the year and the summer break that comes with it.
For most parents the report card is an invaluable tool that provides them with a clear snapshot of how their child is progressing during the school year.
I was going to say I am joined by Sue Taylor-Foley and Kim Jackson, but they’ve introduced themselves. Kim has spent many hours on working on implementing the new report cards, and she’ll be able to answer many of the questions that you ask.
Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for Education is focused on maximizing student learning and success. A redesigned curriculum for students in Primary to Grade 3 was one of the biggest initiatives this year, along with work on the new Grade 4 to Grade 6 curriculum - that’s actually a streamlined Grade 4 to Grade 6 curriculum - which will be introduced in September.
The curriculum has been streamlined to focus on essential learning outcomes. We used feedback from the results of a report card survey in 2014 that included comments from students, parents, teachers, and administrators, along with research, to help inform changes to the report card to correspond with changes to the curriculum.
We heard loud and clear that students and their families want clear, jargon-free comments that help them understand how a child is doing, areas for improvement, and what they can do to support their child’s learning at home. This was so important the Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Karen Casey implemented that change immediately for the final month of the 2014-15 school year.
Changes to report cards reflect a greater focus on language, arts, and mathematics, which have more time allocated to them for teaching and learning. Other highlights include adding performance indicators to each of the outcomes to provide more consistency in how students are assessed in relation to the outcomes. A developmental scale focuses on reporting in Primary to Grade 6 on the development of concepts and skills which are now highlighted in our streamlined curriculum - and that’s what we can take questions on today - and the revised comment structure deals with strengths, areas for improvement, and ways to help at home and school, based on what Nova Scotians told us in the survey.
Madam Chairman, the revised report card will help parents to better understand how their child is learning the new curriculum. It is also important to note that schools and teachers provide many other opportunities to share student progress and information throughout the school year in all subject areas. For example, teachers may use feedback on assignments, emails, telephone calls, parent-teacher blogs, student-led conferencing, parent-teacher conferencing, and the student-parent portal.
I would also encourage parents and guardians to attend parent-teacher visitation to learn more about their child’s development in school.
Madam Chairman, all of the initiatives in the Action Plan are focused on improving student learning, student achievement, and student success in all our schools. We look forward to answering your questions today. Sue Taylor-Foley is going to take us through the Report Cards presentation.
MS. SUE TAYLOR-FOLEY: We communicate student learning and achievement in many ways in our province and we don’t just communicate this at report card time. We don’t limit our communication with parents to just three times a year, when the report card goes out. We actually strive for good communication and feedback throughout the school year, throughout the school day, and we do that in multiple ways.
Report cards are just one vehicle that is used by teachers to communicate student learning and achievement. What students need to learn is defined by our outcomes in our curriculum documents and the essential graduation competencies. This quote from a Canadian researcher and author in this area helps to highlight the evaluation process and where that fits in with the reporting process. Anne Davies has been to our province many times and has provided professional learning opportunities for teachers throughout the province.
There are generally four related areas of a report card and all four of these areas were commented on by respondents in the Provincial Report Card Survey. There were 5,811 respondents to the survey. In the survey a number of areas emerged and they were summarized in the Key Findings section of the Provincial Report Card Survey: Summary of Results that was published in August 2014.
The first area of note was teacher comments by subject and/or course. A number of steps were taken by the minister prior to the release of the full report. Teachers were given additional directions in May 2014 on the writing of comments that would immediately begin to address what was heard in the survey. Four key points for developing comments on report cards were articulated and this continues to be the direction for how teachers develop comments for report card writing.
What we heard and what has been implemented is that comments should be clear and jargon-free; they should be individualized to the students; they should be based on the students’ strengths and any areas that students have for improvement and what students themselves can do to improve; and should also provide advice to parents on what they can do to help continue to support their child’s learning at home. In addition, a sample comment bank was removed in PowerSchool. PowerSchool is the student information system that is used by all teachers in the province to produce a report card for students and parents.
Other changes related to comments that were also recommended through the survey - each of these were addressed in the 2014-15 school year. That included adding a comment section to the learner profile for specialist teachers, such as the music and physical education teacher, and a comment section for the learner profile for Grades 7 to 12. In Grades 7 and 8 there is a space that has been added to the profile section, and in Grades 9 to 12 teachers create a comment within their subject area or course to indicate this area.
Other changes recommended were to add percentage grades for Grades 7 and 8, and that was also done and addressed in 2014-15. There were revisions to the Primary report card to add a learner profile, a comment section, and attendance. This was done in 2014-15, and the learner profile has been aligned into categories from Primary through to Grade 12.
Updating the grades and descriptors 1 to 8 was also a recommendation, and continues to be done as the report card is changed in response to the curriculum, as a result of the minister’s Action Plan for Education. Primary to Grade 3 were updated in 2015-16, and Grades 4 to 6 will be updated in the 2016-17 school year. Additional adjustments to grade scales and descriptors will be done as the curriculum is renewed.
In addition, all principals in the province received regional in-servicing in 2014-15 related to the changes and expectations for reporting. They also received a PowerPoint presentation that could be utilized with parents and with their school advisory councils, and they received additional information that could be used for school newsletters to assist with an understanding of changes in the reporting.
We have been monitoring the changes that have been made as well. We have been doing that through our work with the school boards; through program coordinators of the school boards; through board assessment coordinators; through the in-school advisory group that looks at reporting and PowerSchool; and by working with principals and teachers as well. Of course, principals are responsible for teacher performance reviews.
Additional changes since the report card survey - it is also of note that we have heard from over 19,000 Nova Scotians. That feedback resulted in the Action Plan for Education. The Action Plan was released in January 2015, and also has associated actions that will affect reporting as we move ahead.
For example, there will be some new courses that will be introduced and they will be included on the report card. More time has been given in Primary to Grade 6 to focus on language arts and mathematics, and the public school program itself will be fully revised for the first time in 20 years. In addition, there is a ministerial policy in development that will provide consistency across the province in assessment evaluation and reporting. Consistent weeks have been established for report cards to go home through the province, and parent-teacher weeks were also established in the 2014-15 school year.
While there are some common elements in reporting, as we might have seen 50 years ago, based on the curriculum, our evolving sense of key elements and student success and professional research that supports advances in practices, we of course expect changes will continue to occur in reporting.
The formats of report cards have undergone many changes from the inception of public education. In some parts of our province, consistent templates have been used throughout the years, like the one that is in this example from the Dartmouth public schools. But in other areas of the province, it was not uncommon even up to a decade ago that a teacher in one classroom across the hall from another may actually have a different reporting template, even though they were teaching the same grade level in the same school. Now we have consistent reporting templates across the province.
Today, those are applied through PowerSchool and technological means as well, as we continue to advance, and they also apply based on the grade and the program that the student is enrolled in. Now, while these elements reflect our best understanding of their day and strive to meet the purposes for reporting clear, summative information to students and their parents, it is important to recognize that the reporting process will always continue to evolve and that research in educational assessment is continuing to grow.
We thought it might be an interesting conclusion to the presentation portion of this session to take a look at a comparison between a Primary report card of 50 years ago and one of today. You will note that there are some similarities, but there are many differences too. In 1966 there was a learner profile, but what we were concerned with in 1966 were a few different kinds of things than we are concerned with in the learner profile today. You will see that the learner profile is organized into categories where it was not in 1966. The other difference is that if these report cards were completed, the one that you see from 1966 is actually a sample of a completed report card. The learner profile that you see from 2016 would have the developmental code in every area so it is not a deficit model of looking at things. The 1966 report card is only checked where there was an issue that a student had. Today, we use grade scale descriptors.
The Primary achievement area: on the Primary report card today there are no grades for the subject areas, but there are detailed comments that assist parents in understanding their child’s progress in relation to the outcomes taught. Beginning in Grade 1, however, grades appear on the report card in addition to comments. You will note in 1966 that not all of the subject areas were completed in that area and that the code did not appear with that as well, but certainly there was a clear understanding of what G and V.G. meant at that time, I think.
Comments in 1966, which this one is a sample of, were separated from the achievement area and separated from the learner profile and were actually mixed together at that time period. This sample shows that the comment actually focuses only on reading and on the student’s behaviour. You’ll note that these comments, while we would say they were personalized at that time - which is something we heard from parents, of course, that they wanted personalized comments - would certainly not meet our current understanding of personalized comments. For example, in Term 2, it says: “John works well in the second group,” and that relates to the reading group; at that time, there were only three reading groups in a class, and that was the number. “He is a very good worker. He is sometimes evil. Very neat worker.” That would not be a comment we would expect to see on a report card today.
The report card sample from 50 years ago shows in fact that grades are artifacts of learning. John kept his report card for 50 years and shared that with me recently. I assume that many of us have our artifacts of learning, too, our report cards that we may refer back to. We will see some similarities over time; we will also see some advances over time, in our understanding of how that information is communicated to make best sense and best meaning for parents and students. To assist students with their learning and how to continue to grow in their learning, and to assist parents to understand how their child is doing, it’s important that the grades and the report card comment help to accurately communicate that learning. The changes that we have been implementing have assisted in doing that.
We thank you for your interest in this topic and for inviting us to speak with us today. We will entertain your questions. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Before we start asking questions, I just want to remind everybody we’re going to wrap up around 11:45 a.m. We will have closing comments plus we have some other committee business to deal with.
I ask if we can try - I know it’s hard. I fall victim to it, too - to please direct your question through the Chair.
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: Thank you for your presentation, and thanks for the interest in trying to clarify the reporting system for the children in our lower grades today. I know when my kids went through, sometimes the comments were all the same because if they were a good student they got a generalized comment right through. Dave, that was Primary - we were 12 when that comment was made. (Laughter) I know that they’re doing an upgrade and continuously working. Is the department continuously collecting feedback on the new reporting cards from the teachers and/or the administrators, to make sure that if there is something there that could be changed, it’s changed as we go now and not wait another however many years before that happens?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to direct the answer generally to Kim, and if Sue wants to weigh in. I do want to say that in all of the elements of the action plan that we’ve implemented, we’ve built in evaluation mechanisms, so we’re checking back constantly. Report cards were one area that no one held back. Parents and teachers let us know how they were feeling about report cards. Kim has been on the front line out working with the teachers, so she would be the best person to answer the question.
MS. KIMBERLEY JACKSON: We do gather feedback, informally, sometimes in sessions that we go to. With the teachers who worked on the streamlined curriculum, we got feedback from them about any anticipated changes. Currently, Primary to Grade 3 got a new report card in this school year. Teachers are filling out a survey, and part of that is giving us feedback on the report card and what’s working well. We do have a constant opportunity. We also get letters to the minister about that, and we use that to gather information. We try to make a decision about changes in March or April of the year so that we have time to prepare people for that next school year.
MR. ORRELL: Is the committee that did the changes continuously meeting, or is that committee dissolved now? Is it the department that is continuously doing the upgrades and the input and re-evaluating as they go, or does that same committee that struck the changes continue to meet with the formal feedback - because the informal stuff we probably couldn’t get to committee - do they continue to meet to make sure that if something does need fixing, they can carry it on into the higher grades?
MS. JACKSON: The committee met its mandate when it did the review and made the recommendations. But we did talk about doing another survey a couple of years after the changes were made to reach out to parents, teachers, and students - the same audience - but we have not set that date.
There are other committees that have also worked on this, so we have different sorts of levels. Right now we have not made any plans for that committee to come back.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Rankin.
MR. IAIN RANKIN: I’m just wondering, to be clear, in what grades are percentages used - like number grades? Which report cards reflect . . .
MS. JACKSON: Grades 7 to 12 have percentage grades.
MR. RANKIN: Are the percentages, this whole - I’m still trying to get my head around - I know we spoke about it at Public Accounts Committee, the no-fail policy, or if there is indeed one. We had school boards at that meeting and I found that one of the school boards had said definitely there is the ability to hold kids back, but the answer is a little vague from another school board.
When I talk to teachers they say that the principal, who is administratively in charge of the school, would say not to fail the kids. So what happens when a kid gets a 49 at the end of the year - is that kid held back, given the quote above there?
MS. MCKENZIE: In follow-up to the questions that were posed at Public Accounts Committee, we’ve confirmed and we’ll be sending the numbers back to the Public Accounts Committee that children indeed are held back in Primary to Grade 6 and there are a significant number of students who are repeating courses in high school.
To follow up on your earlier statement that there’s a no-fail policy, there is no provincial no-fail policy. That is a by board, by school, by teacher, it is done in concert with - I don’t know if we’re going to read these numbers into the record here until we’ve provided them to - we had numbers for Public Accounts Committee that we haven’t provided yet, so I’m not going to read them into the record here yet, so we can pass those on.
MR. RANKIN: In terms of getting a zero, what happens with a child or a high school student who doesn’t show up to a test - would they receive a zero on that test? Is there a consistent way or is that left up to the school or the school board?
MS. MCKENZIE: There is no no-zero policy. That is done across the province, according to school, according to teacher, according to school board. In some cases some school boards have policies that direct that. We indicated, when we were at the Public Accounts Committee, and indicate here again that the minister started off with ministerial policies to start to clarify some of the confusion across the province. The first one was the Code of Conduct.
Prior to that we had Guidelines for a Code of Conduct, which created Guidelines for Code of Conduct at the school board level, which then created different by-school Codes of Conduct across the province. We now have one Provincial Code of Conduct.
The next one she released was a homework policy because there was a lot of confusion even within the schools where the teachers were allowed to give homework or were required to give homework; there is one.
The next set of policies that would be looked is the attendance policy. That will be done both for focus groups and for consultation, as we’ve done in the past. That will look at the practice of giving zero based on attendance and participation.
The next step after attendance, which is scheduled for the Fall, will be the retention, promotion, and acceleration policy, and student achievement policy. That will look, again, at the issue. So that there will be a consistent practice across the province on that.
MR. RANKIN: Okay, I appreciate the clarification.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you so much for your presentation. I still have two children in the school system, one graduating this year. This is more of a comment before my question, but interesting enough, probably at least a half-dozen times over the years on report cards often we would see copy and paste. I would compare with my friends who had children as well, and it would be an identical description. Often my daughter would be confused with a boy, or my son would be confused with a female.
I hope those issues are being addressed because I know at that time we had concerns and spoke to many teachers. I understand that the dynamics for teachers have changed so much, there’s so much pressure on them. One of the things I was really happy with - and I think it’s Grades 9 to 12, but it may be earlier - on the report card you have the opportunity to comment as parents, but to engage with your child to comment as well. I think that element of the report card is extremely important and highly valued. I think it’s great when you have an opportunity to sit down with your children and say, what do you think of your report card, and you have to write your comments, and you have to sign.
I think more importantly, from your end, you should be gauging how many parents actually sit down and how many students actually comment back. I’m wondering if you have that figure, or if you plan to? I think it would help the department in understanding how many parents actually take the time to sit down with their children and review the report card. You took the step to put that comments space in for the students, so how many are actually filling it out?
MS. MCKENZIE: You can start with me, and I’m going to pass it over to Sue. That was a consistent comment that came through in the survey: that parents were concerned about what they referred to as “cut and paste.” What was interesting is that the teachers were frustrated with that as well. They felt like they were required to use drop-down boxes, which were really set in the language of outcomes. It wasn’t helpful to parents, and teachers didn’t feel comfortable with it either.
We’ve removed the drop-down boxes from the report cards, and teachers are writing comments. We’ve asked them to make sure that they are jargon-free, and they’re quite happy to move down through that area.
I’m going to pass it to Sue, because she’ll be able to speak to the use of the report card. We do have a significant number of parents who are using PowerSchool on a day-to-day basis. I can speak as a parent myself; I use PowerSchool. There were no surprises when it came to the report card, because I knew if my child had been in school, whether they had been late for class, and whether they had passed in their assignments, and basically I had an email conversation with the teachers if there were any concerns.
I’m going to turn it over to Sue now to speak about how parents have been using the report card format.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: I’ll address the pronoun issue first, if you don’t mind, before I move into the comments on the parent form. I do have a copy of the parent form here that I can circulate, if you’d like, in case some people haven’t seen that.
On the issue of pronouns, within a technical system, when you put in a pronoun, you need to put particular codes in around that in order for it to pick up the name and the gender from the student information system. If that’s not done, then it comes out as a male pronoun every time. I think that was a learning curve for some teachers, initially.
There was also a way to change the name, using different brackets and different HTML code that would fit in with that - a bit of a learning curve and some change in some things before. I know that that happens with less frequency now. I think that happened with more frequency when a new system was put into place, so I think that technological advances have occurred.
On the student comment sheet, I think it’s wonderful that you use that. We certainly encourage people to use that, and we really would like students to use that as well. Students who can articulate their learning are going to be stronger in their learning, as well, and more reflective in that.
We’re taking some of the principles of that and some other areas of the Action Plan, too, and we’re looking at goal-setting as well - that’s talking about goal-setting - and we’re looking at that within career planning. Each student will have a career portfolio from Grades 4 through 12, reflecting on where they are - building some of the concepts, they would actually start with looking at my achievement and how can I apply my interest areas and how can I grow that and what can I do with that as I continue to move ahead?
We don’t collect those back, but there are many schools that use that as part of the parent-teacher conferences. Some schools will utilize an approach, as well, where the student actually leads the conference and articulates their learning. They use that particular form to assist them with beginning that conversation. We can utilize the information on there and expand and extend on that through some other actions in the Action Plan that will be occurring for students too.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Just to go back to where I left off, I assume we’ve had a couple of reporting periods already. My kids are long gone from the school system, unfortunately - or fortunately, I should say. How does that seem to be working now? What’s the feedback you’re getting from teachers, students, and parents on the couple of times that it has. I know, Ms. Taylor-Foley, you had said there was a few wrinkle points that you got ironed out there with the genders and stuff like that but how has it been received overall, and what are the comments that we’re hearing from teachers? Is it easier, better, more effective, more efficient - what can you tell me about that?
MS. MCKENZIE: I think Kim has been out meeting with the teachers, and I just want to give an overall statement with that. When I arrived in the department, we received a significant number of letters related to report cards and it was a significant issue that there were often newspaper articles written on how parents were feeling about report cards and that type of thing. If I can gauge from what we’re hearing, that has dropped right off. Kim is feeling the same way - she is getting contacted less both by parents and by teachers in terms of how they’re feeling about the report cards.
I think that’s also because we have built in evaluation and check-ins with teachers, particularly around P-3. As we said, we’re out doing a survey now to see how things are done; they don’t have to seek other ways to let us know if things are working for them or not, we’re asking them. In addition, quite different to the practice in the past, when we streamlined the curriculum both for P-3 and 4-6, it was led by teachers. In the past, it would be something the department did and then rolled out to the boards. It was actually 700 teachers involved last year in the review of P-3. That has made a big difference because it was by teachers for teachers, and it has made a big difference in terms of the acceptance because they feel it’s reflective of the practice in the classroom.
MS. JACKSON: I would say there are always going to be ongoing clarifications when you make changes, so the questions are sort of indicative of that.
P-3 so far in feedback has gone quite well. They appreciate that focus on mathematics and language arts, which are our big priority areas. Sue, I don’t know if there would be anything else to say to that.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: The only thing I would add to that would be that we have provided additional supports as well as we’ve moved ahead, and I think those additional supports help people feel more confident about things too. We’ve had webinars that teachers have been able to attend live and that they can now watch on demand - I guess you could say - at any time on our educational sites, and we’ve also produced a number of resources that have assisted in helping with that understanding too.
In addition, for the first time last year, when we made changes to the Primary to Grade 3 curriculum as we renewed it, we also held a question-and-answer session. That was an online form where teachers could ask questions about anything related to the changes. Some were about report cards; in fact, I would say there were probably more questions about report cards than some of the other areas and we were able to respond immediately to those and help with immediate clarifications, so people had an immediate response to what they were looking for. That made quite a difference, I think, in how teachers were feeling and on how they felt supported, but also in understanding about what changes were being made and what they were being asked to do within that.
MR. ORRELL: What solid outcomes are you looking for, and how are you going to measure them exactly when the end of the year comes, we’ve had our final report cards, and it has been in place for a year? What outcomes are going to say, yes, this has been a good thing, or no, it has been a bad thing, other than we got some feedback from parents or we haven’t gotten feedback from parents - which is a good thing as well? Actual outcomes number wise, how are we going to base that this has been successful or not?
MS. MCKENZIE: The process that we’re using is the survey. Parents are also engaged in letting us know how things are working. It’s hard to set a numerical standard in terms of have we gotten report cards right or not right. We would be basing that based on the comfort of the teachers in filling them in and the comfort of the parents in terms of getting the information that they have received on their child’s progress, and we would be doing that based on feedback from both of those sources. That’s basically what we would use as our gauge.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MARIAN MANCINI: I do share a similar experience with the computer- generated language of the report cards, having experienced that. I used to think it just confirmed to me my suspicions that my kid was an alien. (Laughter) But I also recognize that we had a lot of other things to rely upon - I didn’t hear what he said but I’ll pick up with you later.
I really didn’t depend on the report card so much as all of the other, and the really invaluable, comments you would get from assignments that were corrected and commented on, and all of the others that you outlined at the beginning are really important. To me, they’re more reflective really than the report card itself.
The interesting thing about the report card, though, it is the one piece of physical evidence that is maintained in the child’s school record, and I’m assuming it follows the child throughout their school years and there is a file.
That leads to my question, in terms of the teachers - when Johnny goes from Grade 6 maybe into junior high and that transition takes place, do the report cards follow? If they do, is there an opportunity or an emphasis on the teachers at the beginning of the school year maybe to review prior report cards, to get a sense of oh look, we’re seeing consistent Ds in language arts or whatever? Just to follow through on that, I’m just wondering, could anyone comment on that?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: Yes, I’ll speak from my experiences as a school principal and as a teacher. We would have at our school transition meetings for students to move from one grade to the next, where teachers had conversations about where students were in their learning progress. Also, as a teacher, I always reviewed all the records on the students to get an understanding of where students were coming from and also where we might need to go next in their learning. You use that as a basis for understanding, but we also look to each year as a new year as well.
So if there was something that was in the report card, for example, from the previous year that showed there was a real need, there also are some areas where there are some strengths. So you would look to build upon the strengths to help assist those needs to continue to grow. So you do use that historical information certainly as a teacher to assist students with their learning, but you also need to pick up from where that student is and really learn to understand and get to know that student where they are currently and how to move them forward in their learning.
MS. MANCINI: I understand the importance of that; I had some experience teaching for a couple of years myself. Getting a student or seeing a student prejudged is not a great thing and it’s very difficult when teachers are talking and discussing the students, oftentimes that could be a result that there may be an incorrect perception of a child. But I guess I go back to that - if you have someone going into Grade 7 they have quite a few years of schooling behind them and these report cards, I think, if they were all laid out would show, at least I would think they would have to show a pretty solid profile of the student.
What I’m wondering about, though, is would any consideration be given to placing maybe, because I’m not hearing that this is a mandatory thing that teachers need to do at the beginning of the school year, whether it could be a professional development day at the start of the year where that was the focus of really just looking at the history, getting a sense and, at the same time, recognizing that I’m going to be the new person in this student’s life. I’m just wondering, is that anything that has been thought about?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: Certainly at the beginning of the school year there are organizational days, also at the end of the school year there are days where you wrap up the school year, but you’re also at that point in time looking and planning towards the beginning of the next school year. While that’s certainly not a mandated thing, one of the things though that teachers do strive to do is get to know their students. You know them from the records, as you’ve indicated, but you also have to get to know them as individuals as well, within your classroom too.
So while that does give you a lot of good background information and necessary background information, you do need to make sure you understand the learning of your student and where they are currently.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne.
MR. BILL HORNE: I would like you to talk a little bit about tutoring students in school or even outside of school, what you feel about the tutoring system and some new aspects that might be coming in on tutoring for different grades or all grades.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: One of the things that is very exciting that we’re doing right at this very moment is we are testing a new online opportunity for tutoring students in mathematics. We often hear that mathematics is a struggle at home, sometimes between parents and students. The idea of this particular platform is to provide a set of resources that students can log into online and be able to immediately understand what fractions are about or what polynomials are about or whatever it is they happen to be studying in their mathematics program.
Also online, at the other end of the line, is a live, trained Nova Scotia-educated teacher, or someone who has teaching certification in the area of mathematics, expertise as well, and they have a whiteboard. The students ask their question, and they work it out together, on the whiteboard, whatever the question is that the student is struggling with. We do have some areas of the province where Internet is an issue, so we also have a 1-800 number that students can call to get live tutoring support. We are testing this right now in two schools in the province, one a rural school and one more of an urban school, so that we can get a flair for how this will work with a variety of different student demographics and in a variety of different areas of the province.
Our plan is to roll out this particular platform in September to all Grade 10 mathematics students in the province and to have any student, no matter where they live in the province, no matter what their means happen to be, be able to receive free online tutoring. This will provide a little bit more of a level playing field.
We still anticipate that there will be many students who will choose to perhaps pay for tutoring, as we know some do now. But certainly that’s not available in every area of the province, nor is it affordable to everyone. In addition to that, we’re also involved with a number of projects throughout the province. I’ll let Ms. McKenzie speak to those particular tutoring projects.
MS. MCKENZIE: We have invested in a number of what I would refer to as homework support clubs in some areas of the province where there has been an expressed need. A great example would be the Pathways program in Spryfield, which has been operating for a few years now. The kids sign up in Grades 9 through 12. We have an additional project that we’re looking at right now in the north end of Dartmouth, the Between the Bridges project. Right across the province, there are examples where people have grouped up, and with the support of the school board and the schools, have put supports in place for kids.
What Sue has just described, the online support and the 1-800 line, will really help in rural areas where kids are not easily able to stay after school because of the busing system. So it will be live support that they’ll be able to have. There will be a number of other resources that will be available to them that they could tap into where they wouldn’t necessarily need to talk to someone, but they could do a tutorial right online.
MR. HORNE: What percentage of students might use these programs for tutoring?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: The Nova Scotia homework hub will be open in September to any Grade 10 student in the province. All Grade 10 students take mathematics, so it will be open to any of those students in the province who wish to take advantage of that. It’s early in our test right now. In our first test phase of this we’ve seen that the first students going online have actually been using the resources section of the site much more than they have been utilizing the actual online tutor at first. I think making the step into that, someone else needs to be the brave one in their class to go on and say, I’ve had an incredibly good experience. So as that continues to build, more students are using that.
We’ve seen students use the phone who even have Internet because they choose that particular way of accessing the site, and we’ve seen students who may not have access to the Internet at home use it from the library or from some other locations. I anticipate that we’ll learn a lot more when we’re finished this particular trial.
We anticipate that the exam time period that will be approaching for the students who are in the testing group will actually be a busy time period and that will give us some really good information. There are some particular things on the exam, like quizzes and self-help kinds of things, self-assessment tools as well, particularly geared towards exam preparation, too, that I think students will be keenly interested in, in preparation for that.
MS. MACFARLANE: With regard to - I guess this question isn’t directly report card-related, but indirectly it certainly is. We all receive our report cards for our children, a week later we have parent-teachers. My observation over the years is that we have the opportunity to go meet the teachers face to face. Of course many decades ago when my parents would do that, they would be there for hours. There would be 20, 25 parents waiting to see a teacher.
I know that definitely in the last 10 years or more I go to parent-teachers and literally there are two or three of us there waiting to meet the teachers. Often the teachers have even said to me, sometimes they wonder if it’s worthy anymore. As Ms. Taylor-Foley indicated, there are all kinds of tools now to engage parents and teachers, whether it’s PowerSchool - definitely teachers have been most accessible in our area to meet after school, whenever; they’ve been fantastic.
I’m just wondering if there has been any review or consideration with regard to parent-teacher days, evenings, if they are still of value - as well as I’m curious to know if, because of my astute observation in the rural areas and hearing it often that hardly any parents show up, I’m wondering if that’s the same trend that we see in the urban areas.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: I think it varies from community to community, what you might see in parent-teacher. I certainly love hearing that the teachers are accessible to you when you need to speak with them because really, if there’s an issue that you’re having, you want to actually talk about that and understand that and get some action on that before a parent-teacher, and for some parents you’re right. Ms. McKenzie and I have often talked about how she utilized PowerSchool, for example, to check to see that her children were at school, that they handed in an assignment, or that they had received the grade, in fact, that they had indicated. (Laughter)
PowerSchool has certainly changed some of that dynamic obviously, because parents can certainly learn quicker and faster about some of those things and be on the phone that day, or within an hour, about an issue that may be occurring.
At this point in time there are many communities, I think, where we would still hear they would like to take that opportunity as another opportunity to touch base with parents about that summation of student learning at that point in time. Really, the report card is not meant to be a surprise, the report card is meant to be a summation of all those collections of learning that have been taking place during that particular grading period. For some people that still is the time period when they have some of those more in-depth conversations, so I think we would still see that there are many who would like to continue to have that at this stage in time.
Will that continue to evolve? Well, like report cards, that probably will continue to evolve. I certainly think that parents do take lots of opportunities, as do teachers, to communicate student learning throughout the year, throughout the school day in many, many ways.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilton.
MR. DAVID WILTON: I’m just wondering how many report cards are issued per year in the school system. Are there different styles of cards, different formats, for each grade level?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: In the elementary grades, three report cards are issued per year. At the high school grades, there are four: one is issued at mid-semester and at the end of the semester, and there are two semesters during the year. In a school that is Grades 7 to 12, you may also see that students get four report cards instead of three because of the configuration of the school and how they are doing the processes within that school.
I’m sorry, the second part of your question was about templates?
MR. WILTON: Yes.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: There are 23 reporting templates in the English-language school boards, and there are additional ones in the CSAP to meet the needs of students who have their report card done in French first language. Those reporting templates reflect the grade level that a student is at and the program that a student is in. For example, a student who is a French-immersion student would have one template for French immersion, because there are some different outcomes and some different subject areas that would be noted within that. If that same student happened to be in the English program, there would be a comparable English report card based on the program that they’re taking. So the template is actually based on the grade level and the particular program the student is enrolled in.
MR. WILTON: Has that changed with this new program, from previous ones? Have there always been 23 different styles?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: The number of templates has been reduced; there were more templates than that at one point. The template is automatically pushed out through PowerSchool, by the way, so it’s not a matter of a teacher having to choose the template; it’s automatically connected to the student, to the program that they’re in. The change that’s really occurred has been on the templates themselves, and those are the things that we’ve outlined in relationship to the changes that have been made based on what we have heard from parents through the report card survey and based on what we’ve been working on through the responses to the action plan.
MR. WILTON: So the parents still get a printed copy or an electronic copy? What do they get today?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: Yes, at this point in time, every parent does receive a printed copy, but many parents already know what’s going to be on the report card by going into PowerSchool and taking a look at what is there.
It’s very interesting that recently Ms. Jackson received a letter from some students at one of our high schools who were appealing to us to look at sending report cards only electronically. That is not the method by which everyone would like to receive a report card at this point in time, but these students made a compelling consideration for our environment and were really articulate individuals and great products of our school system. We really liked receiving their letter, which made so many curriculum areas come together so well. But there is certainly a desire by some individuals to have an electronic format of the report card, and that is a consideration for the future as well.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MANCINI: I wanted to ask a question about the actual survey that was done. I think you said it was close to 6,000 people who completed it. I’m interested in the demographic profile of the people who completed the survey. I’m just wondering if there was any tracking in relation to income or the linguistic profile, race, immigration status - those sorts of issues.
MS. MCKENZIE: We can give you a review of the profile. I don’t believe we asked income questions. I can tell you, though, that 45 per cent were parents, 41 per cent were teachers, 9 per cent were children in Grades 6 to 12, and 4 per cent were identified as administrators. We wouldn’t have asked income questions on that particular survey.
MS. MANCINI: I’m just wondering about language issues. I think many of the schools are dealing with students who have just immigrated into the country and I’m just thinking about the report cards from the sense of their parents, if there has been anything in place to provide some support for people who don’t speak English.
MS. MCKENZIE: There are supports in the schools for meetings with parents who may not speak English, to be able to support the parents’ understanding of their child’s progress. I would have to get you specific information, if you wanted to know exactly what those supports look like. The schools in Halifax in particular are quite familiar with integration. Often in the classrooms they’ll have more than one language that is spoken, in terms of the support for the parents as well, and there’s outreach and support through a number of the organizations. Sue would be able to - she’s writing me something, it might be better if she answered it.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: One of the things that we did support this year for school boards that are receiving newcomers to their schools, we did support translation services as well. Those translation services were made available for times when individuals had need to communicate about things like this but also just about school in general, because schooling could have some differences for individuals, too, as they move here.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: I just want to confirm, so the review for the report cards was struck in 2014. I believe you indicated earlier that there would not be another review for 20 years. Did I hear that? That’s what I want to confirm that I heard.
MS. MCKENZIE: There hadn’t been the work for 20 years in terms of the PSP; the provincial school program, which actually guides all of how we deliver education in the province, has not been reviewed for 20 years. The report card piece was done two years ago and there’s a plan to do another full survey in two years.
MS. MACFARLANE: And what is the cost in doing this for the last one that we did?
MS. MCKENZIE: I don’t believe we have that information with us but I can get that for you.
MS. MACFARLANE: Okay, great, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gough.
MR. STEPHEN GOUGH: Thank you for your presentation. I’m just wondering if you can explain what a learner profile is.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: The learner profile reports on student social development and work habits separately from the reporting of student achievement in a course or subject area.
MR. GOUGH: So is that documented on the report card, or is it something separate that a parent would request?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: It is right on the report card itself. I’m going to get a report card here from the samples I brought. They have been made consistent in alignment as to what the learner profile looks like from Primary through to Grade 12. There are four sections in the learner profile. The first one is on classwork and assignments; the second is on interactions with others; the third is on organizational skills; and the fourth is on responsibility and independence. Some of the elements do change, depending on the grade level, and others remain consistent for a block of time so that students and parents can see changes in that as they move forward.
The code in the learner profile has actually changed in the Primary through to Grade 6. It’s a developmental scale that indicates how students are developing in relationship to acquiring those particular skills within the profile. In Grades 7 through 12, they remain with a code that is C for “consistently demonstrates,” U for “usually demonstrates,” S for “sometimes demonstrates,” and R for “rarely demonstrates.” When we talk about that, that scale will likely continue to evolve as we renew the curriculum at those levels as well, but the developmental scale is the one that we’re now using at the Primary to Grade 6 level to reflect that early acquisition of skills and development.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: I guess the question I have, and I don’t know if it’s related to report cards or if it’s just related to teaching in general, we talked about the Primary to Grade 3 increasing in reading, increasing in math, and the use of specialty teachers, there are issues there that could change that availability with downsizing and schools being closed and amalgamated, and teachers who may have seniority would go into a situation, and I guess my big question is: principals do the evaluations on the teachers - I don’t know if it’s once a year or if it’s twice a year, at reporting time when the report cards go out - is that ever made public or put on a report card?
I know myself, both my children had a certain teacher in a certain grade and when they came home the first or second or third day - how’s school today? Well, I had such and such today, and it was terrible. You got so-and-so as a teacher, don’t you?
That was a common thing that most kids had, not necessarily an ability to teach but it could be a personality thing. Is that ever reported on the report card, the evaluation of how the teacher is actually doing, in the principal’s eyes and/or the students’ eyes, so that could be evaluated? Someone who might be there for 30 years is not teaching to maybe the standards that a new teacher would teach to, with a different curriculum or a different mindset. I’m just wondering if that has ever been a consideration or thought of, or put in a reported situation.
MS. MCKENZIE: Comments about teacher performance did come through in the 19,000 Nova Scotians who responded. If you’ve had a chance to take a look at the Action Plan, Pillar 4 is dedicated to teaching excellence.
One of the things that had not existed in the department prior to the Action Plan was the creation of a Centre of Excellence, which is focused on teaching excellence. We’re starting with the creation of teaching standards, which is really like you would find in any profession, like engineers or what have you, to give the public confidence in the standards that teachers meet. It’s also to raise up the profile of the overall profession as well.
That’s work that is under way. We’ve been working with teachers. There have been meetings that have happened around the province. Teachers have actually built the teaching standards and we’ve been working directly with the Bachelor of Education programs across the province to also make sure that as we roll out the teaching standards, all of the B.Ed. programs would be able to meet the requirements for what teachers would look like into the future.
We’ve also had discussions about what would professional development look like for the teachers who are in the current teaching cohort to make sure they were meeting the standards as well, so there has been a lot of effort put into making sure that teaching excellence is a standard.
Part of what you would see with teaching standards, as you would see with any standards, is how your performance would be evaluated against the teaching standards. One of the next steps is to take a look at performance management of teachers to make sure there are some consistent practices across the province, because right now - and it was reflected in the survey - that isn’t consistent.
The next steps beyond that would also be to establish leadership standards for principals, vice-principals, and for board administration, and also then to tie their own performance to those standards as well. You don’t have standards simply for performance management - of course you have it because it’s a positive way to describe what people can expect from high-performing teachers in the system, in the way you would have engineers, doctors, and any other profession. Part of it is around performance management and the commitment, and the Education Action Plan was to make sure that was evenly applied across the province. We’re expecting to have the teaching standards roll out in the Fall.
MR. ORRELL: That’s my question, thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I’ve received a little message that we’re not being picked up on our microphones, so if we could make sure we’re close enough to the microphones.
MS. MANCINI: I’m wondering about the individual program plans. Is there any improved ability with the new report cards to be able to monitor the progress of students in the individual programs?
MS. MCKENZIE: I’m going to start with the answer to that and then pass it over to Sue for more specifics. One of the commitments in the Education Action Plan was that we would review the IPP process, and that work has been carried out. What we found was that there had been some inconsistent application of rules and follow-up with respect to IPPs. Those have been addressed. The feedback that we received on IPPs has now been incorporated into the system and there has been training on that. One of the aspects with respect to the report card was that there would be Individual Program Plan updates provided to parents with the report cards. That wouldn’t necessarily be a standard part of the template; it would be an additional report that would be provided. Do you have something you wanted to add to that?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: The only thing I would add to that is that there is a separate IPP report card and it notes on the template that all students would receive, if there is an IPP report, and that particular IPP report is actually being revised. That revision will see an alignment more with the reporting codes that are used currently in the other reporting templates. There were some parents and some teachers who indicated that there was some confusion for them between those, so they’re looking at that right now through our student equity services division and working with teachers across the province about how best to do that.
MS. MANCINI: So it sounds like the stakeholders are being included in the process of that. But maybe just a more general question about the new report cards - you may have addressed this, and if you did, I apologize; I didn’t pick up on it. Is there a specific training or specific supports in place for the teachers to educate themselves on the new report cards and what the expectations are?
MS. MCKENZIE: Kim had mentioned earlier that there was professional development for teachers. She was on the road for an extended period of time. But we also recorded Kim, and there were webinars that were made available for all teachers who were able to dial her up whenever they needed her, in terms of the questions and answers that she was able to provide for the teachers. When the new curriculum was rolled out with the report cards, we had a question-and-answer period, and we had immediate responses; we had people who were online and ready to respond as soon as the teachers asked the questions. They rolled almost 24 hours a day there, for a few days, until people felt like they had the answers that they wanted. Was there anything that you wanted to add to that?
MS. JACKSON: We did webinars. We had voiceover PowerPoints. We had question and answer. We tried to have everything, to be honest, to meet those needs. I guess I would just say that there’s a variety. We’re always looking for new ways. The question and answer opens tomorrow from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. I’m sure that we’ll be busy responding, and it will be interesting to see what their questions are.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne.
MR. HORNE: Thank you for a very informative discussion this morning on report cards. I didn’t think we could talk this long on report cards. A question I have, just a quick one: are percentages used anymore in report cards, or the alphabet, A to Z sort of thing?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: In Grades 7 through 12, we do report with percentage grades. In Grades 1 through 6, we report with letter grades. Each of those has a descriptor on the report card that indicates what that means. Those descriptors have also been updated to respond to what parents were also indicating, that they needed information and clarity on some of that. Those have actually been updated to reflect that as well.
Something else that was introduced with the Primary to Grade 3 report card: in music and physical education on the Primary to Grade 3 report card, we’re also utilizing the developmental code that’s utilized within the learner profile. When you look on the template - it prints out sometimes differently than it prints out. When you look at the template, sometimes you don’t see a space for certain things, for example, what we talked about earlier about there being a comment on the learner profile in Grades 7 and 8. When you print out the template, you don’t see that unless a comment has actually been made. There are some things that you don’t see when the templates print.
One of the things that occurred in the Fall that we didn’t see until report cards were printed was that the letter D came out for “developing as expected” for music and physical education. That caused concern for some parents and some teachers as well. While the code was “developing as expected,” when it prints out as a D in that particular area, there was some concern.
We immediately, through the minister, posted a letter that went to parents and to teachers to describe that and we actually had done that prior to that so there was some advance communication for parents, too, to understand what the new reporting changes would be. We are in the process of making sure that is changed for the next school year. With the technology we were not able to change it during the school year but we were able to make clarifications about that.
For the next school year those will be printed in full words on the report card, which I think will alleviate and help clarify anything and to alleviate some concerns for individuals who may have seen a D when in fact it was “developing as expected.”
MR. HORNE: I’m glad you led into the music and the value of how you evaluate a student in music. There is a new program called coding. I don’t know if the school has structure available for reporting that on their report cards. I know I attended a coding session at a private tutoring company that pitched some teachers there from the school teaching 9-year-olds, 10-year-olds, and 8-year-olds in coding. It’s pretty awesome what they are doing with that. Where do you see that going in the future?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: We are very excited to be one of the first - we are the first in North America to have a Primary to Grade 12 coding strategy. It is quite exciting for us and for our students. This year, through Grades 4 to 6, we have included outcomes in the ICT curriculum - the information, communication and technology curriculum - and information, communication and technology will also appear on the report card in Grades 4 to 6 next year. It has not appeared on the report card before, although it has always been a curriculum area for which teachers have been responsible, from P-12.
It appears on the P-3 report card this year in the integrated subject block, and through ICT in P-3, we have also included outcomes related to coding. Now coding, interestingly, is not just related to the ICT curriculum; coding and computing are related to a number of curriculum areas and particularly the mathematics curriculum, which has great connections for that particular area, especially when you talk about logical, sequential thinking, problem-solving. For us, coding and computing is really more about being, and helping students to be, strong problem-solvers and good, critical thinkers - innovators - so we’re really looking to develop those skills within students in the coding curriculum. It will cross over all curriculum areas.
There are specific things that will be in place next year in Grades 4 to 6 classrooms. Next year we are actually giving Grades 4 to 6 schools coding kits, and they are innovation kits actually. They include Makey Makeys, which are single circuits for loops and basic beginning programming. They include Spheros, which are these wonderful little balls that you can program with a block kind of programming and usually the Scratch type of programming as well, which is a beginning orientation type of programming. They also include PASCO probes, which connect with our science curriculum. While those aren’t particular ones that someone will program with, they will utilize the data from that to be able to organize that data in a very sequential and analytical way, which promotes a lot of the coding aspects too.
The kits also include iPads and they include some code books too. We will be adding to those kits over time, but it really is a very exciting time. The teachers in the orientation to this were extremely excited about this and could see the connections and how their students will be totally engaged in those particular activities.
We were very pleased to have an announcement at the House on this and we had students there from several different grade levels. We had students from high school who were involved in robotics, which we’ve also been helping to support, and students from younger grades who are looking at this within their curriculum now and whose teacher, in fact, has been helping to develop some of the activities that will be provided for teachers who may feel a little reticent in this area. Not everyone has a background, so we know providing some additional supports is helpful too. I could probably talk about this one all day, but thank you for your question.
MS. MCKENZIE: If you would invite us back on coding, we will bring a Makey Makey, and you will be able to turn a bunch of bananas into a piano.
Just to build on what Sue said, the biggest shift, one of the biggest shifts in the Education Action Plan was to a deliberate effort to shift the culture in Nova Scotia around math and to convince the population that math is important, and we have traditionally somewhat of a math-phobic province. I have said before that we would say I was not good in math; I am not going to make them take math. You would not say that about reading. So we have to shift more; we have to have less parents say I am not good at math, and we need to have more people knowing that math actually, and being successful at math is tied to every growth sector in the Province of Nova Scotia.
So we need more children graduating with the maths that set them up to be successful into the future, and that is why you see in the Education Action Plan, by 2020, three maths will be required to graduate. We have started a demonstration pilot this year with 10 high schools, where we will be offering extended math in Grade 11 to give kids that need that bit more time to finish the Grade 11 requirements in academic math the opportunity to do so.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you. I guess it is following up a little bit on that - recently, I had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Stan Kutcher; he is, and I guess I would expect you are all familiar with him, a child and adolescence psychologist or psychiatrist, I’m not sure, but anyway he was actually at your school, Eastern Passage High School. And he made this comment, and I was a little bit surprised by it for two reasons, because I did not think it was happening.
First of all he said that the three things that students need to maximize their development emotionally and through the school, and what they increase in their capacity to learn, he said it was physical exercise, music - and I don’t know if by music you could have expanded that into more of the creative aspect of our brain, but in meaning drama or other art, whatever - and cursive writing.
So those were his three, and he said all three of those are being removed from the educational system. And I’m listening to you talk - I did not know that; you know, I always thought they were being maintained to a certain degree, but when I listened to the coding, I know there is only so much time in the classroom, and if there is a new program and a new emphasis, other things have to go by the bye. So I guess I am just asking if you could comment on that: (a) do you agree with that, that they are essential components; and (b) are they being eroded from the current curriculum?
MS. MCKENZIE: I love Stan, and I will call him afterwards about those three things. We work with Stan extensively with respect to a number of his programs around mental health literacy and a variety of things. But, specifically, there is a commitment to a physically active lifestyle in the Education Action Plan. We released a literacy strategy last week that actually refers directly to cursive writing positively, and music is alive and well in our public school system.
So the issue, when I’m talking about math and coding, is more about the culture in Nova Scotia which has not necessarily seen math as necessarily important. We want to make sure that our children are prepared for the future. It is not taking away from anything else by saying math is important.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you. That is my question.
MR. RANKIN: Just a quick question - I know through the review and the change in the curriculum there was a new civics class for Grade 10 that was something I thought was really important. I just wanted to make sure - that was introduced in the last school year, or is it this school year coming?
MS. MCKENZIE: It’s lined up for 2017-18, and I’ll let Sue speak to - it’s in development now and it will be in for 2017-18. I can say that the transition task force, which is in the Education Action Plan, will be making its report to Minister Casey and Minister Regan in the next month or so. The members of that committee also reinforced the importance of the citizenship course for kids in our province, so we’re committed to it and we’ve been moving forward with it, rolling out next year.
MR. RANKIN: Just to confirm, it’s not just the IB program - it will be mandatory for high schools across the province for Grade 10? Is that correct?
MS. MCKENZIE: IB?
MR. RANKIN: For the International Baccalaureate program or something like that? I know it’s just the honour roll students, they take the extra courses. I just wanted to make sure that it’s part of the core curriculum, that all students will get the . . .
MS. MCKENZIE: Yes, I understand what you’re saying. The minister has said that it will be mandatory. We’re having some conversation now about exactly where it will be placed in the grade levels, in terms of the best placement for it, but every student will have it.
MR. RANKIN: Madam Chairman, I’m also wondering, on the literacy component, what physical resources are - what financial resources are going towards improving that, and when will we see the Reading Recovery program that was taken out reinstituted?
MS. MCKENZIE: Minister Casey committed to the reinstatement of the Reading Recovery program. The Reading Recovery program started to be rolled back out across the province two years ago, and we had training and growth every year with respect to Reading Recovery. I’m going to turn it over to Sue to speak directly to the supports that are in place for literacy development.
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: In addition to more Reading Recovery teachers for the upcoming school year - who have been allocated to two boards in particular for the next school year, based on the size of those particular boards, and continuing the rollout that has been occurring over the last few years on Reading Recovery - every school board will have a literacy lead for next school year, and the Halifax board will have two literacy leads, based on their size.
The literacy lead will help lead the implementation of the literacy strategy and will work with the department staff on that implementation so that there will be consistency and support for that implementation as it rolls out across the province. In addition, we will have literacy mentors who will be in schools next year and who are funded as part of this year’s budget to support the literacy strategy.
We also have early literacy teachers in schools who work directly with small groups of students. Reading Recovery happens at the Grade 1 level, and that’s an individual program for students who are struggling in their reading. The early literacy teachers work with small groups of students from Primary through Grade 3, but primarily at the Grade 2-3 level. Then there will be literacy mentors who will work with teachers across the system, because literacy, of course, occurs within every subject area.
MR. RANKIN: Just quickly, of the two school boards that were mentioned, was one of those school boards the Halifax School Board?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: Yes. Halifax and Chignecto-Central are the two boards that will be receiving additional Reading Recovery teachers for the next school year.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Mancini.
MS. MANCINI: We strayed off report cards a little bit, so I’m hoping I can ask this question. What I wanted to ask is, the 2015 Action Plan for Education talks about partnerships with the business community. It was something that came up, as I understand, at Business Estimates. I imagine you were there; I wasn’t at that one.
The minister did talk about the need for technology in the classroom and said that it could be the case that a local businessperson could buy iPads for the classroom. I was wondering if the deputy minister could talk a bit about how businesses are involved in the schools across the province.
MS. MCKENZIE: The Education Action Plan pointed to the establishment of the Business-Education Council. We did the transition task force first because there was a lot of crossover that would be passed to the Business-Education Council. I’m pleased to say that the Business-Education Council has had its first meeting.
The intention of the Business-Education Council is to also have regional versions of the council. The intention is to provide opportunities for mentorship co-op work experience for businesses to have opportunities to talk about their sector effectively with the schools, to tie into career development. There are all kinds of other partnerships that we can do.
When the minister was referring to that - I believe that she was referring to Ben Cowan-Dewar in Inverness, when he bought the iPads for the class. But it is not unusual; it has happened for years where businesses have provided direct support to classrooms in terms of - there is a great partnership that is under way right now, led by Luke MacDonald on Sparks Fly and the bikes that are in the schools. It has traditionally been something that businesses, particularly small businesses, who have been fantastic in terms of their support for sports teams and connections in support for the schools. The Business-Education Council and the regional versions of that would be places where businesses would be able to come to support effective partnerships with schools. I want to clarify that we are not reliant on businesses to buy our iPads, but when they express an interest in it, we are happy for the support.
MS. MANCINI: So what you are saying is that if that scenario takes places, like the iPads, it is coming from a small local business; it is not coming from a large corporate entity.
MS. MCKENZIE: About 80-plus per cent of businesses in Nova Scotia would qualify as small business, and they are involved in their schools right across the province. I believe that there are partnerships with large businesses and there are partnerships with small businesses and everything in between. I know that it is not unusual for Tim Hortons to sponsor sports teams for tournaments or what have you. It has been something that we have always relied on. What we are seeing is that, for instance, there have been businesses that have stepped up across the province to provide coding clubs with their schools. We have seen businesses that have supported schools by buying robots for the classroom. There has always been a keen interest between chambers of commerce and schools. We are building on that tradition through the Business-Education Council.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Horne.
MR. HORNE: Just a last question I think I will be asking, but I would like to talk to Ms. Taylor-Foley. On her title there, she has Innovation, Programs and Services. What do you see in the future in innovation for Nova Scotia students, maybe five years, 10 years, or 20 years down the road? I know coding seems to be a newer one, but from that point on, what do you teach?
MS. TAYLOR-FOLEY: Well, thank you. One of the things that we have been looking at in the last little bit has been the application of virtual reality to the classrooms. Certainly that is a growing field in the technology area. We have actually produced a couple of virtual reality apps already, in conjunction with some work with some students and a teacher, and those are just in support of the mathematics program. If you can envision your mathematics textbook of old and drawings that were in your mathematics textbook, and you’re trying to figure out what that angle does look like, if you actually take your electronic device - and it can be any different kind - you can actually take it to your textbook and it acts as a trigger and it brings it up in 3-D format. Then you can actually move around it and it talks to you to tell you the different angles that are there.
We produced only a few of them right now, but I think we will be doing a lot more of that. I don’t think it will just be us doing that at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development; I envision through our coding strategy there are students who will be producing those kinds of learning objects that will not only support their learning but also other students’ learning.
I think virtual reality is going to be one of those things that really does project a lot more for the future. I’m not sure that - we just talked about iPads for example. The devices change that students use. We’re actually seeing more Chromebooks being used right now, for example, because Google Apps for Education has changed the way teachers and students are interacting, not only with each other but also with many parts of the world. I think we will start to see people envision themselves more as: I may live in Nova Scotia, but I also have a global reach, and from here I can do many, many things that are going to benefit me personally and also my province, too, and the world.
I think we’ll see that continual look to that greater picture of things, too, as we continue to use technology, but also as we continue to use the skills that we’re developing through the competencies that our students are developing to be able to do some very creative and innovative things.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. That brings us to the end of our speakers list. If the department would like to make some closing comments, we welcome them.
MS. MCKENZIE: I’d just like to say thank you very much for the opportunity to come today to talk about report cards and also some of the very cool and innovative things that are happening at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
We’d be very happy to come back and talk about coding innovation and virtual reality, and we’ll bring glasses for all of you so you’ll be able to see some of the things that we were describing today.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
There’s going to be about a five-minute break. I’ll see you back at 11:35 a.m.
[11:31 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:36 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I’d just like to ask if everybody received their correspondence, and we’re all good with that.
Okay, we’re going to go on to appointments to agencies, boards and commissions.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, I just wanted to ensure that before we do them if we can do them based on their departments, because I have an issue with regard to the Workers’ Compensation Board. I can either bring it up now, or we can appoint them individually and I can bring it up under the heading.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will do the departments individually.
So is there a motion on the floor for the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage?
MR. WILTON: Madam Chairman, under the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, I move that the following be approved as governors of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Board of Governors: Irene d’Entremont, Malcolm Fraser, Bonita Kirby, Stan Kutcher, and Barbara MacKinnon.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Is there a motion on the floor for the Department of Health and Wellness?
MR. HORNE: Madam Chairman, under the Department of Health and Wellness, I move that Steven M. Smith be approved as vice-chair of the Health Research Foundation of Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Is there a motion on the floor for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education - or discussion?
MS. MACFARLANE: I just wanted to bring it to the committee’s attention today that this has been a concern of mine for some time, and it has also been a concern with the Liberal Party as well. I did a little bit of research and I just want to make it aware, before we move forward with this, that under the Workers’ Compensation Board Act, under Section 151, it indicates that there should be 10 members on the board, but that they would have equal representation, representing employers and workers, so we really have to keep that in mind.
Back on March 29, 2011, it was brought to the attention of the committee by the Honourable Michel Samson and Honourable Kelly Regan that there was not equal representation and that this was a big concern of theirs in moving forward.
Unfortunately nothing really changed. I do have big concerns around the fact that the majority of employers and employees in Nova Scotia are non-unionized and we, as a committee, have to ensure that there is an equal, balanced voice on the WCB. My concern is that I would like us to write a letter and go back and have the WCB clarify with our committee who the 10 members are, what their association is - were they unionized or non-unionized? When I look at it now, there is definitely no voice for those non-unionized workers in Nova Scotia, and this is a big concern.
As well, I’m sure all of you looked at the package, and I have a concern with the fact that on one of the applications here, it stated that one appointment was revoked. We don’t know why that application was revoked, and we don’t know who the individual was.
Therefore, I would like to put a motion on the floor, Madam Chairman, that we defer the appointment for today until we have clarification from the board that there is equal representation before we move forward. I’m certain that all of us sitting here want to ensure that there is equal representation. It is our duty. It’s in the Act under Section 151. I don’t feel comfortable moving forward. It’s nothing against Mr. Clarke; he’s definitely qualified. But I also believe that we, as a committee, need to ensure that there’s equal representation.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Rankin.
MR. RANKIN: I think that they’re related issues but they’re different in the fact that we should vote on this. This is a motion put forward for Rick Clarke, so I’d like to see that vote go through.
The person who revoked their name did that on their own; they removed their name from the list.
The other issue of looking at the makeup of the Workers’ Compensation Board, we can certainly look at that. I would put that in other committee business. I know I’m not officially on this committee, and a couple of other members aren’t; I would want to read up on what the board looks like today if I was on this committee.
I think we should go through with this motion for Rick Clarke so that the committee decides whether he goes on or not; you’re free to vote yes or no. I think it could be put on committee business in the future when you have the committee members here.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: I think the idea is not knowing when each of these appointments are going to expire. If we appoint someone today - no matter who it is, it could be whomever, if they’re a union or non-union employee, and the balance is off, that could take another year or two to get that balance back. So if they were to check the composition of the board now, and it was five employees and four employers, and Mr. Clarke’s an employer representative, fine and dandy. Mr. Clarke is very capable - very capable - of being on the board, and he could be on there as an employee or an employer. But we can balance that if we know the difference in the makeup of the committee. If it’s five employees and five employers, great. If it’s seven and three, that may not change then for another year or two when these appointments come due, so that doesn’t give us equal representation for that time. That’s the only reason that we’re saying look into it now.
Bring him back next time and appoint him if it’s all equal, fine and dandy, and I’ll be the first to vote for him because I think he’s a very capable gentleman. But just make sure that the committee makeup is there so that there is equal representation from all parties involved.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: I just want to echo my colleague’s remarks. I appreciate finding out that the individual revoked on their own; that’s fine. But if we go forward today in putting Mr. Clarke in this position - once again we can come back a month later, and I have no problem voting for Mr. Clarke. But if we do that today, then we have a board that is potentially unbalanced.
I think we’re going to hear loud and clear from those non-unionized workers in the province that their voice is not being heard on this board. I personally do not understand why it would be so difficult just to defer it for a month. We are expressing that we do not have a problem with Mr. Clarke and his qualifications. We have an issue with the existing board, as it is, being unbalanced. If we can get clarification that it’s not, then next month we can certainly go ahead and make the motion to put Mr. Clarke in this position. I would like everyone to consider that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So the first motion on the floor is to defer the appointment of Rick Clarke to the Workers’ Compensation Board as an employee member. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is defeated.
Is there a motion on the floor to put forward a name for the Department of Labour and Advanced Education?
MR. RANKIN: Madam Chairman, I move that Rick Clarke be approved as an employee member of the Workers’ Compensation Board.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
We can, if you would like, put that there are a lot of committee people missing who normally sit on this committee, so if you would like to put that on as committee business on the next agenda we can do that.
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, I appreciate that. There are a lot missing. I do find this committee at times very inconsistent and I understand that people have appointments and have to put other people in their places to attend this committee. However, I am hoping that today we can have a letter sent to the WCB and not delay this any further, but clarify what we’re requesting from the board today so that perhaps next month we will have those answers that we’re seeking today.
MR. ORRELL: With all due respect, to defer a vote on something because the committee members aren’t here, I find that appalling. We are here and we’re saying let’s put this on the agenda for the next meeting because some of the committee members are here but we’re passing things that are important to this committee. Monthly we’re doing it and we’re saying well, we’ll do that when the committee members are here, when all the committee members are here. But if they’re here, then they should be the committee members. If they are acting as the committee members, they’re making a decision as committee members. So to defer something and then add something else and vote on it, I think that’s . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well it gives people an opportunity to do their own research on this subject as well. (Interruption) This was not on the agenda, so I’ve put it on the next agenda and we will deal with it then. Thank you.
Did you want a motion to write the letter or did you want to - sorry, Ms. MacFarlane, did you want a motion to write the letter or did you want to wait until the next committee meeting?
MS. MACFARLANE: Madam Chairman, understanding the statement that you just made, it sound like you’re making a decision that we’re not going to have it on the agenda until next month.
But yes, I would like to put a motion on the floor that the committee begin the process to have a letter written to the WCB, simply requesting them to send a letter with the board members’ names, how long they have served, and what their affiliation is - are they representing non-unionized? Are they representing unionized?
I think that’s fair because if we are to abide by, once again, the Workers’ Compensation Board Act under Section 151 - you can all look it up - we’re not doing our job if we’re not following the Act. This is simply out of concern of constituents and organizations that have raised it with me in the last couple of days. So I would hope that everyone would agree that since we’re discussing it today, why don’t we agree to send a letter today? Why are we deferring it for a month to send a letter in June? Why not now? So thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Rankin.
MR. RANKIN: Is it employees/employers or union/non-union, that’s two separate things? I just wanted - if we’re sending a letter, that’s fine, but we have to clarify what we’re asking for. If it’s in the Act, Section 151, that it’s equal balance between employees and employers, that is distinctly different than balancing non-unionized and unionized membership. So if that’s not in the Act, it could be a preference issue and not following the Act itself. So if we’re going to send a letter, we need to know what’s in it.
MS. MACFARLANE: So what we want to look at is basically seeing the members who are currently on the board, if the numbers represent employers as well as workers.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Is there a motion on the floor? Are we all clear on the motion? (Interruptions)
Would you like to clarify the motion, please?
MS. MACFARLANE: Sure. I’m requesting that the committee write a letter to the WCB requesting a list of the current members, as well as the terms that they are serving, and to clarify if these members are representing employers or workers, with regard to the Act, Section 151, indicating that there should be an equal balance between those two.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, so we’re going to call a vote on the motion.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
MS. MACFARLANE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You’re welcome.
Our next meeting is on June 28th. It is from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and it is Mr. Robert Fowler regarding Hub School Model.
Thank you very much everybody for your patience with me chairing my second meeting. Anyway, have a nice day. Thanks.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 11:51 a.m.]