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Over the past two decades, most of our education systems have focused on success in two important areas — literacy and numeracy. These academic goals are indisputably important. But the intense focus on these particular goals is overshadowing other priorities.

We need to build a better measure of school success.  There have been considerable international efforts to develop an emphasis on a broader set of learning objectives, and how to assess progress in these areas.  There are many initiatives underway in schools, boards and provinces across Canada.

Working with researchers from across the country, People for Education is getting ready to launch an initiative to identify a broader set of goals for education. These goals will be measurable, so students, parents, educators, and the public can see how Canada is making progress.

The goals will cover a range of dimensions of learning. The dimensions will be those that are both critical to students’ individual development and knowledge, and vital to the public interest because they will help to ensure graduates who are knowledgeable, healthy, creative, and positive about good citizenship. A possible list of dimensions of learning or quality schooling could include:

  • academic achievement
  • physical and mental health
  • social and emotional development
  • creativity and innovation
  • citizenship and democracy
  • school climate

Many schools are already working hard to foster the full development, sense of citizenship, and creativity of all their students. By putting a clearer public focus on the broader goals of education, with measurable outcomes, we hope to prompt schools to go further, try new things, and strengthen relationships beyond school walls. We also want to make sure schools have the resources to do this.

Canada is at a crossroads. Public concern is growing about the direction our rapidly changing society is moving — and who is getting left behind. Questions about the role of education lie at the heart of these societal changes. We have a chance — and a responsibility — to more clearly articulate what kind of Canada we want to be and what kind of schools we want to have.If you agree that the time is right to ask for an education system focused on what matters most for our children and for Canada, stay tuned - and become part of a big new conversation at People for Education.

Here are some questions to get started:

  • Are these valuable dimensions of school success to focus on?  Why or why not?  Are there others?
  • Do you know of any examples where schools are measuring and reporting on goals beyond literacy and numeracy?  Does it seem to make a difference to what people do?
  • Are there challenges or advantages of a project such as this?

We look forward to hearing from you.


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This is such an exciting initiative! Education has been too focused on testing for a few narrow parameters in the last twenty years or so. It would be so wonderful if all the items listed above could be used in assessing the goals of education as there is so much research on the value of these parameters in promoting a healthy learning environment with positive outcomes for our students. It now needs to be implemented.  I am especially interested in exploring how outdoor education/outdoor education centres/connecting kids to nature; the arts; field trips/experiential learning can assist our students to meet the full range of goals listed above. I look forward to this P4E discussion!

Hi Diane

Thanks for your interest and support for the initiative.  We'll really look forward to your input and ideas. 

One of the things that is most interesting to us is to try to understand if you change "what counts", even if those are always things educators, children and family have valued, does it change practice in schools?  Does it change decision-making at the board or provincial levels?  There is lots of evidence to say that the focus on literacy and numeracy HAS affected school practices - we are interested in knowing how schools 'take on' a set of broader - but still measurable - goals.

I saw an interesting article about Singapore this morning.  The school system in Singapore - one of the top performers from an OECD perspective - has been working for several years to develop a broader set of goals, including a strong focus on creativity and citizenship.  According to this news article, now the government there is trying to get a computer-assisted tool to help ten-to-twelve year olds track their social-emotional progress.

Singapore, Finland, Australia and the United States have been working in a research partnership - with a bunch of technology companies - called Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills.  They have been doing lots of research around these issues.  I'm not sure what I think about all of it - but its definitely worth a browse.

Sounds great! Thanks for sharing!

I know from personal experience how the EQAO exams focused every teacher in every grade, the principal and the school council on making sure that there were good results in the EQAO exams. The teachers, administration, school board and school council set out scope and sequence approaches for every grade that was linked specifically to improving the results of the EQAO exams. It drove me crazy, as this became the educational driver. What is measured is valued.    

Also what is funded is valued. For instance, although there are scope and sequence documents for environmental education for every subject in every grade - and outdoor education and connecting children to nature is part of it. However, there are few natural experiences for students because it is so poorly funded and competes with other important but also underfunded activities such as the arts and physical education. Yet, the research shows that the improvement in emotional and physical well-being and academic achievement if kids connect to nature, partake in the arts and are physically active. But the focus has been on literacy and numeracy - with a very narrow EQAO  paper and pencil evaluation of these areas, rather than a robust and on-going evaluation that can influence how and what the student is taught during the year to reflect their needs.

That there is one outdoor education and one physical education class in every year of high school - at most - while math and English has workplace, college, university-college and university options, also shows that we don't really value this subject, in spite of all the rhetoric. We won't get kids active until we tailor the Phys Ed classes into levels, the same way that we tailor the academic courses. We need to respect different interest and abilities. Now an non-athletic but keen Phys Ed student has no place in gym class.

I know that the conversation is much broader than the areas I have mentioned here. And I could add much more - including the mock elections that I ran in my son's classes in elementary school in partnership with Student Vote, so the students would begin to understand democracy and citizenship - and hopefully it would influence them to vote when they were old enough. And I always emphasized that voting was just the beginning.

I look forward to how this discussion unfolds.

Hi everyone,

My name is Krista, and I'm a volunteer researcher working with People for Education on this project. Over the past few months I've had the chance to sift through the publicly available measures of "school success" in each province and territory. It's been a fascinating experience; I've learned a lot, but have many questions I look forward to asking members of this community.

Diane, you mention the disjoint between rhetoric and reality, specifically relating to outdoor and physical education. I was struck by this in my research as well, particularly in the area of nutrition and physical health. When visiting provincial Ministry of Education websites, it is clear that physical health is on the radar. Many provinces have "action plans" to increase physical fitness in schools, but the goals are quite broad and fuzzy. It's hard to tell how, exactly, tailored and age appropriate activities are being implemented in schools. And the implementation of physical education programs isn't documented nearly as extensively as, say, literacy assessments are. This speaks to the perceived lesser value of physical activity. As you say, what is measured is valued - and what is measured implies what we most value.

I think also that there is a distinction between "promoting" health amongst students and offering healthy opportunities for students to participate in. There is a lot of talk about "promoting" health in schools, but it seems far less common for schools to have the opportunity to provide experiential learning in this area. For instance, I was looking atsome of the projects funded by Manitoba's Healthy Eating Campaign in Fall 2012. It seems like there is a big difference between a bulletin board informing students about the food groups and preparing a healthy meal for your school. I think both are important, but I imagine the latter would involve more experiential learning. Not to mention being far more difficult and time-consuming to implement!

Hi.. Just wanted to weigh in a little here . You mention the idea of experiential learning and health - and I can't help but point out that in my school, the family studies programme was completely shut down a few years ago. I don't know if the same is true in other schools.  

Prior to that, I found students were more often bringing prepared dishes in from home to share with the class as opposed to actually preparing the food items in the family studies room and I wondered how long that had been going on before I arrived.  (I was new to the middle school)   I recall clearly going to middle school in the 70's and there was, at least at my school, a very strong family studies programme, complete with menu planning, grocery shopping and food preparation.

We as a society have become largely consumers of food as opposed to active participants in food collection and preparation. Just up the street from my home USED to stand a Village Farm where people went and grew vegetables and fruits for local community groups.  I was always bolstered to see that -- especially in the middle of Etobicoke.  However, it has now closed up, the land having been sold to a developer who is planning town house condos.......

The disconnect between what we KNOW is good for us and good for our children and what we ACTUALLY DO - is definitely there. 

As far as whether or not we are "measuring what matters", there is also the issue of "depth" vs "breadth". At the provincial level "accountability" seems to mean "detailed records of academic achievement", rather than "multi-dimensional accounts of school success".

The problem with this, in my mind, is that more academic information is not necessarily better - unless it is contextualized and packaged in a way that helps parents understand it. An example of this would be the Public Exam Course Results available through the Newfoundland and Labrador Ministry of Education. If you have a child who wrote her English 3201 exam in 2012, for instance, you can see how her school performed, by subtest area, as compared to her school district and overall province, over the past four years! Or, a parent with a son in grade 6 can look at this appendix to see how well his school district performed, by subtest, on his Language Arts Assessment. However, this information is presented solely in the form of graphs and statistics - with no information explaining why some districts might have higher or lower scores, or why changes might occur over time, or contextualizing any of the other quantitative information.

My sense is that some provinces offer these detailed, in-depth accountability reports as a nod to transparency, but do little to present this information in a way that might be helpful to the average parent. Providing reams of data to parents in the name of "transparency" and "accountability", without background and contextual information, probably won't parents find *meaningful* information.

Hi Kelly

Good call to action!

Two thoughts come to mind:

(1) A caution for us all - Not all that matters can be measured! The 'system' can too readily forget or ignore that. The "need" to measure can siphon off the energy and resources that could/should be used to implement more programs & intiatives that do matter. (There has been plenty of research done on what those are...)

(2) I applaud the various dimensions suggested in your article. And suggest that we, as well, place more emphasis on teaching our youngsters how to deal with the pragmatic issues in life, like decision making, handling money well, etc. Not only do these skills straddle many of the 'dimensions' listed above, they are easier to measure. We can and need to do more to help them learn and practice these strategies - in age appropriate ways throughout the K-12 levels, and in all academic 'streams' and contexts. At the moment, too many of our youth are leaving/graduating high school wondering how to cope with 'what comes next', rather than being ready to comfortably handle the practical aspects of life-on-their-own.

I look forward to the thoughts of others...

Hello Diane!

I'm sorry I guess I am a bit of a devil's advocate here.  I would be leery of a twelve year olds self-evaluation.  How would one know if they embellish certain characteristics?  Also filling out a questionnaire from a software program and having aggregated results from teachers or a teacher could result in an impression  that could be very different from real life.  Have to question the content and the methodology.  I guess I am old fashioned and suspicious of algorithmic formulas for measuring things like creativity or mental health but you are right, it is definitely worth looking at.  I would be very curious as to what these people think 21st century education should require. On another note, you might find that a lot of parents have tried to squish in this stuff during off hours.  Trying to do it all during high school is very difficult.  I wish that in Ontario more of this was started much earlier like they do in the East Asian countries.  It would make it  so easier later on.  This is a good conversation.  Oh have to go!  Off to a music class!

Hello Sam,

I guess this sort of thing could be very informative but I guess I am a cynic, no maybe a skeptic.  I would be wary about who is doing the interpretation and who benefits and what sort of label or stigmatization could occur. 

(I'm sorry I directed my reply to the wrong individual -above)

I browsed a bit through the above article.  Did you see who is in the Executive Board?  Didn't see any Canadian bank representatives  on their advisory panel either. 

I hope the schools help to  create a more humanitarian society.

Measures of success regarding academic achievement abound and are/have been ongoing and have their place in any school system in order to "judge" what a student has learned so as to program forward.  Measures of a youngster's social/emotional wellbeing is more ethereal (creativity/innovation/citizenship...all could be measured with criteria) even though, for years now, the research is clear that unless social/emotional wellbeing, a sense of belonging, is part of a child's learning,  actual academic achievement is impacted.  "Social Skills" programs come and go...some teachers use them, some do not;  some boards mandate them, some do not, however, this learning is "extrinsic" to children's overall development.  There are very few sound resources available which support educator training and students with a daily "process" for building community where students feel "safe" to take risks in their learning.  School boards access the "Safe and Accepting Schools" list of resources for inclusion, however, there are hundreds, and in Ontario, there is no body (as far as I know), measuring these?   How do school boards select appropriate resources so as to guide their schools?   In my experience working in a school system, this is mixed practice.  In the US, there is a renowned body known as CASEL (Collaborative Association for Social/Emotional Learning) which has identified 24 resources which have enjoyed good success in meeting these needs.  Much easier to select than hundreds.   Hope this has some relevance to a discussion that looks as if it ended in August!

I'm reminded of a quotation by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. "What is essential is invisible to the eye."  Di Gibson also hit the nail on the head when she said that not everything that matters can be measured. I agree with Diane who points out the power of outdoor/nature experiences, and I lament a system which makes it nearly impossible to give children these experiences on a regular basis. The cost of getting students to a natural setting (if the school is not close enough to one within walking distance), the constant fear of risks (as if life isn't a risk), and the ubiquitous permission form required for anything that involves leaving the school grounds all make it so very difficult to get students out of doors.

What is really important to us? I'm not sure when it was that I recognized that the way we've structured our society makes most of us into slaves. I mean that quite literally. We are dependent on someone or something else for our survival, not our own skills and our relationship to the land we live on, the land that gives us fresh water to drink, clean air to breathe, and provides all the food and medicines that we need for good health. In return for providing us with what we need to survive, we are required to work at some other task that effectively prevents us from providing for those needs ourselves. We receive money for this, and we use the money to buy the things that allow us to survive. As a bonus to keep us from becoming too depressed in our servitude and to keep us from recognizing our lack of freedom, many luxury items are available if one can amass enough money to purchase them. However, in some core of our beings, we know something is wrong. This is why so many men (and women) still hunt and fish even though they don't need to. Why so many of us grow vegetables in our gardens. Why we gather wild mushrooms. Why we go camping. We know we need this. We know it on the deepest of levels within our human awareness.We are depressed, we have poor mental health, and we turn to substances, either illegal or legally prescribed, to cope with this, or we commit suicide, or we muddle through in our state of poor mental health. Some turn to various religious practices and soothe themselves with a vision of a glorious hereafter.

School is merely an extension of this servitude, a training ground for our children, a place to teach them the skills that they will need to be good slaves in the future.

I'm not sure that measuring the success of this system is a worthwhile endeavour . . . . sorry, Kelly. Nothing personal. We need to re-think this idea of "education" from the ground up. (No pun intended.)


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