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October 25, 2007
For immediate release

Common Assessments Highlight Areas of Strength and Weakness in Math and Language Arts


Education Minister Gerard Greenan tabled the provincial results of recent common assessments in the Legislature today.

The assessments were done in the Spring in all Grade 9 math and Grade 3 English language arts classes. Teams of Grade 3 and Grade 9 teachers from across the province developed the assessments based on the provincial curriculum.

Minister Greenan said the assessments provide more information to parents on how their children are doing in school, and they provide the education system with information to improve teaching and learning. “The results of the assessments tell us whether students are learning what we expect them to learn, and what adjustments we need to make to reach those who are not,” he said. “In time, we will have trends to tell us whether our interventions are working.”

Grade 3 Writing

The results of the Primary Literacy Assessment indicate that 67 per cent of students performed at the standard when they were asked to write in a personally expressive way such as a journal entry. When students were asked to write a transactional piece of writing such as instructions, over 80 per cent reached the standard. The standards were set by a committee of Grade 3 teachers.

The results indicate that the overall organization of the students’ writing is good and students understand what is being asked of them. Their use of basic conventions such as capitals, periods and spelling is also good.

The assessments show that students are challenged when it comes to writing complex sentences, using quotation marks and writing to a specific question or prompt.

Grade 3 Reading

A total of 62 per cent of the students who wrote the assessment achieved the standard in reading. A further 11 per cent were approaching the standard, while 27 per cent were experiencing difficulties with reading comprehension. Students did well in high order thinking questions. They did about 10 per cent better performing tasks in fiction, rather than non-fiction. When surveyed, Grade 3 teachers indicated that these results are close to what they expected the first time the students participated in this type of assessment.

Grade 9 Mathematics

The Intermediate Math Assessment measured performance in seven mathematical strands: number sense, operation sense, patterns and relations, measurement, geometry, data management and probability. The average score on the math assessment was 61 per cent.

Students did well in number sense, when asked to demonstrate and apply their understanding of the meaning of numbers. They also did well in geometry, where they had to demonstrate understanding of spatial sense and the principles of geometry. They also performed well in data management when asked to solve problems involving the collection and analysis of data.

Students performed less well in operation sense when asked to demonstrate an understanding of operations such as multiplication and division and apply operation principles to solving problems. They also struggled with probability, when asked to solve problems by carrying out experiments based on the likelihood of something happening.

The math results formed part of the students’ final class mark and were released to students and parents in June. The reading and writing results were sent home to parents last week.

The results of these first common assessments provide baseline information on how well students are doing in primary literacy and intermediate math. Over time, these results will serve as benchmarks and will guide efforts to improve student achievement.

In 2007-2008, common assessments will be conducted in Grade 3 reading and writing in English, in Grade 3 reading in French, Grade 6 reading and writing in English, and Grade 9 math.

Backgrounder: Common Assessments

October 2007

How many students participated and when?

1,200 Grade 3 students participated in the primary literacy assessment which took place in May 2007. The assessment took about one hour per day over four days. It did not count towards the students’ final grade. Due to the small population of students in French Immersion and French First Language programs, these students took the field test only, this year. They will take the reading assessment next year.

Students with special needs who were not following the curriculum were exempted by the school principal in consultation with the child’s teacher and/or parent. Other students were exempted for reasons such as bereavement or extended illness.

1,500 Grade 9 students took part in the intermediate math assessment in June 2007. It took about two hours to write. It was worth 10 per cent of the total math mark of all Grade 9 students. The assessment was the same for both English and French students.

How did the students perform?

In the primary writing assessment, 67 per cent of students performed at the standard when they were asked to write in a personally expressive way such as a journal entry. When asked to write a transactional piece of writing such as instructions, over 80 per cent reached the standard.

In the primary reading assessment, 62 per cent of students who wrote the assessment were at the standard, 11 per cent were approaching the standard (meaning within one or two points), and 27 per cent were experiencing difficulties.

In the Intermediate Math Assessment, the average overall score was 61 per cent. Following are the average scores in each of the seven strands of math that are covered in the Grade 9 curriculum:

Number sense, 75%; Operation sense, 53%; Patterns and relations, 62%; Measurement, 65%;

Geometry, 72%; Data management, 72%; Probability, 42%.

How are the results being used and what actions are being taken?

The process of creating common assessments has provided many teachers with the time and opportunity to study in-depth curriculum documents and to gain a better understanding of the expected outcomes. Assessments are created to match the curriculum documents.

A meeting was held for all Grade 3 teachers to present the overall results of the assessments, and to provide teachers with the detailed results for their students.

The school boards, with support from the Department of Education, have ensured that teachers in the lower elementary grade levels have the opportunity to learn more about performing reading records. Reading records show teachers how well a student reads text and can be used to provide periodic updates on student progress.

As part of the School Development process, many schools have set goals to increase the reading comprehension of their students. This is an excellent fit with the common assessments as schools/teachers can use the results to see how well their interventions are working.

New text books and resources in Language Arts are now available in the primary grades. At a cost of over $150,000 per grade, these new resources are a better match to the expected reading and writing levels of students. All teachers using these new resources are also receiving in-service on a variety of teaching strategies at a cost of over $50,000 per grade level.

Elementary teachers are receiving professional development and/or resources on the 6+1 Trait Writing framework which focuses on ideas, organization, voice, word choice, conventions and presentation.

A new Atlantic Canada Reading Assessment Resource is now available to grade 4, 5 and 6 teachers to help show them the level at which students are reading and comprehending text.

Eight Literacy Coaches are now working in schools to help teachers and schools improve reading and writing in grades 1 to 3.

The Reading RecoveryTM program continues to provide intensive one-to-one support to the readers who need the most help.

The Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET) is developing standards for each grade in math and language arts. These standards clarify the level of proficiency anticipated in the curriculum outcomes and will help teachers to know exactly what is expected of the students by the end of the school year.

A new assessment resource for Math K-3 will be introduced to allow the classroom teacher to assess how a student is doing in math, and how the class is doing. This is helpful for the teacher to guide instruction and to identify students who need more help.

All grade 7, 8, and 9 math teachers attended a curriculum mapping session in May to talk about how math is taught at grades 7, 8, and 9. This allowed teachers to examine the connections between the grades and the level and depth of coverage of the various curriculum areas. These teachers are meeting again in October to take a closer look at how students performed in each strand of math. They will decide collectively what they can do to improve teaching and learning in these areas.

What assessments are planned for 2007-2008?

Primary Literacy Assessment, May 2008 (English and French reading)

Elementary Literacy Assessment, May 2008

Intermediate Math Assessment, June 2008 (English and French)

Media Contact: Linda Lowther
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