Les Fichiers de Transparence

Yes, you read that correctly…even if I needed help to write it!

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This will be a short (if and only if, you skip the entire middle section which is all background information!), but sweet announcement that we imagine will put smiles on the faces of all those who have advocated for greater contact time with French language at OJCS.

First – thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out an Annual Parent Survey this year!¬† My sharing and analysis will, hopefully, be the subject of¬†next week’s “Transparency Files” blog post.

Second – let me walk you oh so “briefly” through the conversation and work we have put into amplifying, expanding and improving French language outcomes at OJCS over these last few years.

In November of 2017, we laid out the big questions we had about French outcomes at OJCS and what our plans were for beginning to answer them.

In February of 2018, we shared back (in person by way of a “Town Hall” and through a blog post) the first set of answers to those big questions and made our first set of commitments in response.¬† That included:

  1. Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time need to begin during the admissions process. ¬†Students who may require additional support to place into ‚ÄúExtended‚ÄĚ need to be identified early.
  2. The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into ‚ÄúExtended‚ÄĚ for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
  3. We will increase the rigour and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.
  4. We will provide additional extracurricular contact time with French through clubs, lunch, etc.
  5. We believe we will be able to adjust our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Stay tuned!

In April of 2019, we announced a $50,000 donation to strengthen French language learning at OJCS, and shared the following set of updates to our families and community:

  • We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French.¬† Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).
  • At OJCS, the FSL (French as a Second Language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you were to walk through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
  • Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
  • Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
  • Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.

In May of 2019, we announced that the Ottawa Jewish Community School would be the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program.  (Please know that our work with TACLEF was generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.)

Over a two-year period (give or take due to many COVID “pivots”) CFORP introduced TACLEF, La Trousse D’acquisition de Comp√©tences Langagi√®res en Fran√ßais (loosely translated as a “French language acquisition ‘kit'”) to the French teaching staff at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and offered individual mentoring in its use.¬† This approach strengthened team building and permitted a better understanding of a skills-based teaching/learning approach as it develops language proficiency in French language learners.

In January of 2020, I provided the community with an update on the consultancy, including…

…the greatest impact is ensuring that all three strands (reading, writing and oral communication) are built into almost every activity and evaluation. ¬†It has also given us new resources and strategies for delivery of instruction, classwork, and homework (in addition to evaluation).

…by providing us with a detailed roadmap, we can prepare all our students – particularly the ones who land in Extended French – as if they were going into French immersion. ¬†It is too soon to be more specific, but over the remaining months of the consultancy we will have greater clarity about how to adapt our program (with what supporting curricular materials we will need) to prioritize that outcome.

There is no doubt that COVID has impacted our ability to fully implement all of the above, but progress continues to be made each year.¬† This¬†year’s highlights include a significant investment in French curriculum with a focus on leveled readers in support of reading comprehension.

And now you are fully caught up!

Third – here is a little context to better understand the announcement.

When trying to make comparisons between our French program and that of the public board, let’s look at an “apples to apples” comparison.¬† It is our understanding that students in French immersion at Sir Robert Borden High School (public) in Grades 7 and up have 740 weekly minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 200 min
  • Physical Education / Dance 200
  • Health 40
  • Science 150
  • History / Geography 150

In comparison, currently students in “Extended French” at OJCS in Grades 7 and up have 400 minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 240 min
  • History / Geography 160

Clearly, 740 is more than 400, and no one is making an educational argument that when it comes to language acquisition that more isn’t better.¬† ¬†And we have stated in the past that adding more contact time in Science is complicated (both because we appear to offer more contact time in Science education than SRB in general and because it would require additional staffing/tracking), but knowing that it is essentially science vocabulary that our students are lacking to bridge the gap opens up solutions that don’t automatically require us to reinvent the school.

But there is something we can do Рand are announcing that we will do Рas soon as the 2022-2023 school year.  We are thrilled to share with you that beginning next year the OJCS will begin the process of transitioning our PE program to a French-language PE program!

We are not yet prepared to tell you the “who” – other than it will be legitimate French teachers (not simply PE teachers who may speak French) with background and experience (not simply French teachers who may know how to shoot a basketball) – and we are not yet prepared to tell you the full “what”.¬† There is a curriculum that needs to be adapted and/or created; a curriculum that adds value, not just time, to the current French program.¬† But we do believe that adding an additional 120-200 minutes per week in French language exposure/education/contact time in another subject found in French immersion is a really big deal that is going to make a really big difference in French outcomes at OJCS.¬† (And, yes, we will be fully prepared to support those students for whom French is a challenge to ensure their legitimate PE needs continue to be met.)

We have come a long way towards closing the gaps between “Extended French” and “French Immersion” over the last five years – we see it in our outcomes and in our graduates.¬† But whereas those gaps have begun to close in terms of content and quality,¬†this gap really does start to close the gap in terms of time.

This is a big deal and a big step forward for French at OJCS.

And we aren’t done yet…not even close.

La fête de la Francophonie

For those of you whose historical memory of OJCS goes back 5 years or more, you may recall that for a number of years we invested lots of time, love and resources in all of our grades putting on French plays Рor vignettes Рeach Spring as a way of both celebrating French and making clear how important French and French language are at OJCS.  I had one opportunity, during my first year, to watch those delightful plays and since they were retired Рas happens in schools, programs cycle in and out Рwe have been patiently waiting to replace those plays with an updated program that serves the same purpose.

Well…that time has come!

We are so pleased to let you know that this Monday-Wednesday (March 21-23) will be our inaugural “La f√™te de la Francophonie” at OJCS!¬† The goals are simple – to spend three days marinating in French, celebrating the work of our students and teachers, highlighting the strides our French program has taken in the last few years, and elevating French beyond the boundaries of French class, into the broader OJCS culture.¬† Like any firsts, we expect things will go well, with some minor hiccups, but are eager to see this program develop into a significant milestone in our school’s annual journey.

So…what to expect at “la f√™te”?

To set the ambience, we will have a customized French music playlist to greet our students each day upon entry…

Different grades/cohorts will be assigned a different French-speaking region/country to learn more about including…

  • Franco-Ontario
  • La France
  • Acadie
  • Madagascar
  • Qu√©bec
  • La Suisse
  • Les Seychelles
  • ¬†L‚Äô√Čgypte
  • La Belgique

…students will learn about their region/country, not just during French, but across their day, and will take what they learn to compete in a door-decorating contest.¬† The winners will receive a ‘d√©gustation de cr√™pes’.

Each French class will work on a presentation that will be presented in the grand finale of “La f√™te de la Francophonie” at an all-school assembly Wednesday afternoon.

And many more surprises…

So there you go…voil√†!

Parents at OJCS will hopefully look forward to lots of opportunities to peek in and/or to see pictures and videos during this year’s celebration.¬† We’ll look forward to building on this in future years as we continue to emphasize French in our trilingual school.¬† Stay tuned for more updates about the future of French at OJCS in the weeks and months ahead!

(Re)Launching the OJCS Makerspace

As our school and community begin to gently ease itself slowly back to that elusive thing we once knew as “normal”, I am very pleased to share that we have completed the “Makerspace Consultancy” that I had announced earlier in the year, and that we are gearing up to finally establish the Makerspace (built with a gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund) as the hub of innovation for OJCS that it was designed to be.

To refresh…

Thanks to a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS worked with Future Design School over the balance of this school year on a strategic makerspace consultancy.¬† The OJCS Makerspace Design Team included Josh Ray, our Middle School Science Teacher, Faye Mellenthin, our Grade 4 General Studies Teacher, Mike Washerstein, a Middle School Jewish Studies and Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher, and was headed up by Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator (and Grades 7 & 8 LA Teacher).¬† This was to ensure that the principles, the units, the standalone lessons, etc., cut across grades and languages and will allow us to not only build content that we can use right away, but to build capacity that we can use to develop curriculum and programming into the future.

We had our final meeting last week and received one of our deliverables Рa slide deck that I am going to cherry-pick from below.  In a truly post-COVID world, we would have scheduled one of our World Famous OJCS Town Halls and presented there.  And we still may in the future, but for now, let my blog be the platform for sharing out the amazing work our team of teachers did in collaboration with our wonderful partners at Future Design School.

What were the goals?

What wound up being our “guiding principles”?

How do we get there?

How will we try to do this?

How about our students?

How will we do this?

When will all of this begin?

SOON!

The Makerspace Design Team – who I cannot thank enough for their time, commitment and passion – and I will be meeting during the Spring so that we bring all this excitement, creativity and innovation to life next school year, if not sooner.

As enrollment continues to come in – and thank you to the many, many parents who re-enrolled on time, and welcome to the many new families joining our OJCS Family for 2022-2023 – the relaunch of the OJCS Makerspace will help move our school that much closer to our North Stars and make learning that much more motivating and engaging for our students.¬† We can’t wait to see what our students invent and create!¬† And, yes, say it with me, this too is very much #TheOJCSDifference.

Do you want your child to benefit from all that an OJCS education provides?¬† It isn’t too late!¬† Please contact our Admissions Director, Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca) to set up a tour today!

A quick thought about teachers as we head into February Break…

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps all those years ago for allowing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language. The very act of teaching Рregardless of subject or location Рis a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head into another transition Рthis time from hyflex, back to in-person learning.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of math or the teacher of French or the teacher of badminton.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers, like families, are looking forward to a much-needed break from the challenges and burdens of having pivoted from in-person learning to Winter Break to distance learning to hyflex learning to February Break; with a final two-week phasing out of hyflex as the circle rounds back to in-person.¬† Please know that just as it is vitally important that we find the opportunity to share the good with parents about their children, I cannot tell you how impactful it is when a parent shares something nice about or directly to a teacher.¬† These acts of lovingkindness are what sustains even the most dedicated of teachers during inevitable times of stress.¬† Thank you to all who do take the time…your kindness matters.

We are long past the point of predictions when the truest thing is our inability to know what is to come.¬† We know that when we return from break that the sun will rise on each new day.¬† We are hopeful for better/easier days, but prepared for all possibilities.¬† I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see what is to come.¬† If the saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true, I guess we’ll see who is laughing in the weeks to come.

In the meanwhile, we wish all our OJCS Families a safe, restful, joyous and meaningful February Break.

#ShortestBlogEver #You’reWelcome

Another Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can assure you that this regular reminder of our student blogfolios with its concomitant plea for your visitation is not a function of my from time-to-time challenge in finding a prompt for blogging.  (Although that is definitely a challenge some weeks!)  It is also not a function of believing that blogging is the primary or most important thing that we do at OJCS Рit is not.  But because blogs and blogfolios do makeup the spine of which much else is built around; because the pandemic has required us to lean into them more regularly; and because they are outward facing Рavailable for you and the general public to read, respond and engage with РI do want to make sure that I keep them top of mind.

For most of my professional life, I have had two children in (my) schools where they maintained blogfolios.  I subscribed to them, of course, but I am not going to pretend that I read each and every posting, and certainly not at the time of publication.  So this is not about shaming parents or relatives whose incredibly busy lives makes it difficult to read each and every post.  As the head of school where blogfolios are part of the currency, I frequently set aside time to browse through and make comments Рknowing that each comment give each student a little dose of recognition and a little boost of motivation.  But I am certainly not capable of reading each and every post from each and every student and teacher!

When I am able to scroll through, what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.¬† This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work. ¬†But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily. ¬†When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it. ¬†Look at how much time they spend editing. ¬†Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.

This year, with the building still largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios remain important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.¬† In addition to encouraging families, friends and relatives to check it out, I also work hard to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time to visit our school’s blogosphere so as to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

So please go visit our landing page for OJCS Student Blogfolios.¬† [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.¬† That may explain some of the creative titles.]¬† On our last tour, I pre-selected a few examples, but we have WAY TOO many to do that now, so go…

Seriously go!¬† I’ll wait…

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own Рespecially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is excited to celebrate – even if those celebrations (like everything else these days) has to continue to come filtered through COVID protocols and a hylex learning program.

“Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and as we began our formal discussions of how we would celebrate JDAIM¬†this year at this week’s Faculty Meeting, we began where our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, always encourages us to – with a shift in our mindset about what “special needs” really is and what it means:

For teachers, it’s important to always be thinking with a lens of inclusion in order to support and meet the needs of all learners (Shift the Spec Ed Mindset!!)  It’s important for our students to be open, understanding, and inclusive to ALL members of our community.

There¬†is a bit of a delicate dance we do with issues like “inclusion”.¬† To the degree that we state that “everyone has special needs,” you run the risk of only focusing on who you presently serve and not look to see who you do not / cannot and then explore why.¬† To the degree that we state “every month is about inclusion,” you run the risk of missing a critical annual opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.¬† We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.¬† But we also want to use JDAIM as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.¬† We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Even as we navigate a complicated set of safety protocols, here are just a few examples of how we are gearing up to make JDAIM a special month at OJCS…

…Sharon Reichstein, along with our Grade 2 General Studies Teacher Lianna Krantzberg , rolled out a set of “choice boards” for both Lower & Middle Schools, as well as a Padlet to our entire faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.¬† As they put it, “While we spend time each day fostering kind and inclusive communities in our classrooms, it is our hope that you can add a spotlight to JDAIM in your classrooms throughout the month of February- pick and choose from the choice boards, the Padlet activities and/or create your own.”

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on books that focus on “inclusivity”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge” with an eye towards not only goosing individual participation but¬†class participation as well.

…this year continues the exciting opportunity for our students to participate in the Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) Speaker Series for students in Grades 5-8.¬† Every Monday through Thursday this month there will be a different and free JDAIM guest speaker.¬† The lineup of speakers is incredible!

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs with enhanced COVID safety protocols is only possible thanks both to generous supplemental grants from Federation and from its “Emergency Campaign” that provides flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds whether they are learning in-person or at-home.¬† As increased personalization is carried forward from all our COVID pivots, OJCS aspires to live a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and to fly as far as their God-given potential permits without a ceiling.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible. ¬†The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending. Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi¬†ratzon.

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results (Yes, Even During COVID) Part II

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!¬† In Tuesday’s post, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did¬†this year.¬† Here in our second post,¬†we are now able to begin sharing comparative data, however patchy. ¬†It will take at least one more non-COVID year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same¬†cohort¬†year after year. ¬†But we can get a taste of it with Grades 5-8.¬† What you have below are snapshots of the same cohort (the same group of children) from 2019 to 2021 (with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 3):

What are the key takeaways from this comparison (remembering that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting an “8.9” for Grade 7)?

Now bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a cohort over time is whether or not we see at least one full year’s growth (on average) each year – here we are looking to see¬†two full year’s growth since we last took the test in 2019.¬† This would be the place one might expect to see the full measure of COVID’s impact – these are the two years of COVID between the two tests.¬† However, for all four cohorts in all categories save two (2019 Grade 3 to 2021 Grade 5 “Computation & Estimation” and 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Spelling”) you see at least two full year’s growth (technically 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Computation & Estimation” was just shy) and in may cases you see more than two full year’s growth.

I’m going to say that again.

During the time of the pandemic, with all the pivots back and forth, all the many challenges of both hyflex and at-home learning, all the prolonged absences by many students (and teachers), with all the social and emotional stress and anxiety, with everything we know about what COVID has been doing to children and to families, in almost each category that we tested our students in Grades 5-8 – spending no time or energy preparing for the exams and with diverse and inclusive classes –¬†in 22 of 24 domains we see at least the pre-COVID expected two-year gain, and¬†in many cases we see¬†more than two full year’s growth.

As was true with our overall scores, I was expecting to see a significant number of gaps for all the reasons I just described, but surprisingly and encouragingly, that is not what the data yields.

Let’s look at one more set data points. ¬†We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well. ¬†Again, we only have Grades 5-8 to look at with (with a bonus 2018 Grade 6):

Now, remember that these scores represent a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances. Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with. ¬†But over time you are looking for patterns.¬† Ideally each domain settles in at least a full grade above with slight fluctuations from year to year depending on that year’s particular constellation of students.¬† Even-better would be to see slight ticks up each year as a result of new ideas, new pedagogies, new programs, etc.¬† And that is actually where much of the story currently is.

In the places where we aren’t quite where we want to be, we still have work to do.¬† If with additional data we come to believe that Spelling or Computation & Estimation are institutional weaknesses, we will want to know whether they are weakness in every grade or do they dip in certain grades.¬† Between COVID and gaps in testing, we simply have no way to conclude much more than we have already laid out.¬† But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both cohorts¬†(the same students) and¬†grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To try sum up both posts, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores.  We have two areas (Spelling and Computation & Estimation) to prioritize in two grades (Five & Seven).  With regard to Spelling, it is interesting to note that when we flagged it in 2019 as a more global concern, we began providing professional growth opportunities for language arts teachers in our school on Structured Word Inquiry.  The sample sizes are too small to make grand conclusions, but it is possible that those interventions help explain why Spelling is no longer a global concern, although we do need to pay attention to where and why it is lagging where it is.  With regard to Computation & Estimation, we will Рlike with Spelling Рhave an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.

This fits in with the work we began on our November PD Day which focused on “Data-Driven Decision Making”.¬† The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 5-8 will be meeting to go through CAT4 results in greater detail, with an eye towards what kinds of interventions are needed now – in this year – to fill any gaps (both for individual students and for grades); and how might we adapt about our long-term planning to ensure we are best meeting needs.

The bottom line is that our graduates Рyear after year Рsuccessfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling Рthey are all different Рbut working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now again this year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, and in the face of the most challenging set of educational circumstances any generation of students and teachers have faced, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

Not a bad place to be as we prepare to open the 2022-2023 enrollment season…

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results (Yes, Even During COVID) Part I

This may seem like a very odd time to be sharing out results from this year’s standardized testing, which in our school is the CAT4.¬† We are just finishing up our first days in this year’s most recent pivot back to distance learning and we are confident that everyone – students, parents and teachers – has more pressing concerns than a very long and detailed analysis of standardized tests that we managed to squeeze in during the in-person portion of our school year.¬† (The post is so long that I am splitting it into two parts, and each part is still a bit lengthy.)¬† But with our launch of Annual Grades 9 & 12 Alumni Surveys and the opening of the admissions season for the 2022-2023 school year, one might argue that there is not a better time to be more transparent about how well we are (or aren’t) succeeding academically against an external set of benchmarks while facing extraordinary circumstances.

There is a very real question about “COVID Gaps” and the obvious impacts on children and schools from the many pivots, hyflex, hybrid, masked and socially-distanced, in-person and at-home learning experiences we have all cycled through together since March of 2020.¬† (I wrote earlier in the year about some of the non-academic COVID gaps that we are very much experiencing, all of which I imagine growing proportionate to the length of this current pivot.)¬† And it seems logical that there should be and are academic gaps, at least at the individual student level.¬† One might ask why we even bothered taking the CAT4 at all this year; we didn’t take it last school year for example, so it will be really hard to make meaningful apples-to-apples comparisons.¬† So why take them?¬† And why share the results, whatever they may be?

We did it for a few reasons…

The first and primary reason is that we are curious.¬† Curiosity may not be a “North Star” at OJCS, but it is a value.¬† And we are very curious to see how our standardized test scores measure up pre-COVID and post-COVID, both by grade (2019 Grade 5 v. 2021 Grade 5) and by cohort (2019 Grade 5 v. 2021 Grade 7).¬† We would normally be looking for patterns and outliers anyway, but now we can also look for COVID impacts as well.

Why share the results?¬† Because that’s what “transparency” as a value and a verb looks like.¬† We commit to sharing the data and our analysis regardless of outcome because we believe in the value of transparency.¬† We also do it because we know that for the overwhelming majority of our parents, excellence in secular academics is a non-negotiable, and that in a competitive marketplace with both well-regarded public schools and secular private schools, our parents deserve to see the school’s value proposition validated beyond anecdotes.

Now for the caveats and preemptive statements…

We have not yet shared out individual reports to our parents.  First our teachers have to have a chance to review the data to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on, and which results require contextualization in private conversation.  Those contextualizing conversations will take place in the next few weeks and thereafter, we should be able to return all results.

There are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Because of COVID, this is now only our¬†third year taking this assessment at this time of year.¬† We were in the process of expanding the range from Grades 3-8 in 2019, but we paused in 2020 and restricted this year’s testing to Grades 5-8.¬† This means that we can only compare at the¬†grade level from 2019’s Grades 5-8 to 2021’s Grades 5-8, and we can only compare at the cohort level from 2019’s Grades 3-6 to 2021’s Grades 5-8.¬† And remember we have to take into account the missing year…this will make more sense in “Part II” (I hope).¬† Post-COVID, we will have tracking data across all grades which will allow us to see if…
    • The same grade¬†scores as well or better each year.
    • The same cohort¬†grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The other issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning. ¬†However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this. ¬†Let me use an example to illustrate this. ¬†In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the¬†3¬†represents the month. 7.3¬†would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December. ¬†The reason it is the third month is¬†because¬†September is zero, October is one, etc. ¬†It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he¬†was never tested¬†on seventh grade material. ¬†He¬†was only tested¬†on fifth grade material. ¬†He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material. ¬†That’s¬†why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

Let me finish this section by being very clear: We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success. ¬†Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success. ¬†Our¬†best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success.¬† That’s the headline, but let’s look more closely at the story. ¬†(You may wish to zoom (no pun intended!) in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We take this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year. ¬†That means that “at grade level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 5.2, 6.2, 7.2, etc. ¬†For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.2 would constitute “below grade level” and anything above 6.2 would constitute “above grade level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade. ¬†If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the¬†prior year’s teachers and experiences.¬† But it is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from these snapshots of the entire school?

  • Looking at four different grades through six different dimensions there are only three instances (out of twenty-four) of scoring below grade-level: Grade 5 in Computation & Estimation (4.4), and Grade 7 in Spelling (6.6) and Computation & Estimation (6.0).
  • Interestingly, compared to our 2019 results, those two dimensions – Spelling and Computation & Estimation¬†are no longer globally lower as a school relative to the other dimensions.¬† In 2019, for example “Spelling” was a dimension where we scored lower as a school (even if when above grade level) relative to the other dimensions.¬† In 2021, we don’t see “Spelling” as scoring globally below.¬† (That’s a good thing!)¬† [We also have some anecdotal evidence that a fair number of students in Grade 7 may not have finished the Computation section, leaving a fair number of questions blank – in the case of this cohort, it might be more valuable to know how well they did on the questions they actually answered (which we will do).]

What stands out the most is how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.  This is NOT what I was expecting considering the impacts of COVID over the last two years РI was fully expecting to see at least .5 (a half-year) gap globally across the grades and subjects.  This is a surprising and very encouraging set of data points.

Stay tuned for “Part II” in which we will dive into the comparative data – of both the same¬†grade and the same¬†cohort (the same group of students) over time – and offer some additional summarizing thoughts.

OJCS Announces $1.5 Million Gift to Transform Classrooms & Learning Spaces

With the utmost humility and the sincerest of gratitude, it is my great honour and pleasure to announce what may be the largest single gift our school has ever received.  An anonymous donor in our community has decided to invest $1,500,000 to help ensure that our classrooms and learning spaces are as innovative as our teaching and programming.

This represents an extraordinary moment for our school Рits students, parents, teachers, supporters and community Рon our journey towards long-term sustainability.  Yes, of course, what happens inside the classrooms is more important than the rooms themselves.  But there’s no question that more innovative learning spaces allow for more innovative learning experiences.  This generous gift and the opportunity it presents will make a huge difference in the lives of OJCS students and teachers for a generation to come.

It is also worth saying that this new commitment to our school not only validates the hard work our teachers and board have put in over these past few years, but raises the bar for what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.  We hope that it also puts a smile on the faces of our current and prior set of major donors, including the Jewish Federation of Ottawa,  without whose contributions would never have made this gift possible.  We accept this gift not as a celebration of what we have done, but as a charge for what we now must do.

So…what happens next?

A lot!¬† Especially if we are going to try to start the work over the summer so that at least some of our newly upgraded classrooms and spaces will be ready for use at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year!¬† There will be lots of behind-the-scenes work with architect firms, general contractors, construction firms and vendors as we work to design our “classrooms of the future”.¬† As we did with the construction of our OJCS Makerspace – funded by a generous grant from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund – we will soon be convening groups of teachers and students for visioning sessions to ensure that “teacher voice” and “student voice” are appropriately included in the design.

It will be our pleasure to share designs as they come in and it will be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing as it becomes more clear.  We are so proud at OJCS to have this opportunity to do such important and transformational work.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

Shining the OJCS Spotlight: JK – The OJCS Way!

[This post was co-authored with OJCS JK Teacher, Susan Wollock.]

During this “Festival of Lights” it seems very appropriate to kick off a new series of blog posts (to be written intermittently) that shines a spotlight on new, exciting or important things happening at OJCS.¬† It also feels appropriate to launch this series because even if we are (please God) in “late-COVID” times, our protocols have been in place for so long that we have parents who may have never stepped foot inside our building!¬† And if that is true, how much more so for the rest of our community.¬† That’s the big idea – to share out big things that are happening at OJCS that you may not be in the know about.

And yes, of course, it is¬†not a coincidence that we are beginning with “Junior Kindergarten” as we ramp up for the admissions season for the 2022-2023 school year.¬† We are so proud of our new JK program and all the deliciousness that is happening there – what better time to share than now?

So, what are the most important things to know about JK @ OJCS?

Well, JK at OJCS is a trilingual program with lots of opportunities for cross-curricular activities.¬† Here’s a topically specific example: Chanukah.¬† In JK, we use Chanukah as an opportunity to learn numeracy (How many nights do we celebrate Chanukah?), vocabulary (How do you say sufganiyot in French?), and holiday songs in all three languages.

In JK we learn through play Рwith emphasis on social, emotional, cognitive, language, literacy, math, science, physical motor skills.  In addition our JKers have daily Physical Education indoors and twice-daily outdoor play (those that nap get out once a day in the beginning of the year but then as they drop their nap they will participate in the second).  Our beautiful JK classroom is anchored in Centres throughout the room that focus on art, science, sensory play, literacy, fine motor, cooperative play and dramatic play.

At OJCS, JK has weekly STEAM experiments and exploration where we follow the scientific method in an age-appropriate way in addition to other amazing weekly activities such as Art with Tashi (our Art Teacher), Music and Movement (guided and freestyle).

But most importantly, they’re just the most adorable kids in the school!¬† [Note from Jon: I know which classroom to visit whenever I need a smile!]

Do you want to see how JK at OJCS will set your child up for success in school?¬† Do you have a friend or relative with a child entering JK?¬† Please contact our Admissions Director, Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca), to find out more or to book a COVID-friendly tour.¬† You may also reserve your spot at our upcoming “JK Parlour Meeting” scheduled for Tuesday, December 17th at 7:00 PM (link made available when you RSVP).

Do you want to see (with your eyes!) what JK at OJCS looks like in action?  Stay tuned to social media and other outlets when we debut our new JK Promo Video next week!