For young adults that are able to graduate high school, the opportunities available to them are significantly higher than those who do not. From trade school to university, to many entry-level jobs, most require, at very least, a high school diploma.
That’s why the Nova Central School District’s (NCSD) Director of Education Charlie McCormack said he was pleased to announce the district’s best academic performance ever for the 2011/2012 school year.
Quantified by the percentage of eligible students who graduated, as well as the numbers completing academic and honours certificates, McCormack said the improvements were part of a 10-year plan.
According to a release sent out by the school board, nearly 94 per cent of the 942 students eligible to graduate in June 2012 got their high school diplomas. Twenty-five per cent of those students graduated with honours, and 44 per cent graduated with an academic certificate. Sixteen out of 37 schools in the district posted a 100 per cent graduation rate, including Lakeside Academy in Buchans and Point Leamington Academy. Nova Central School District also performed above the provincial average on eights public exams.
In 2006, only 89 per cent of eligible students graduated – 17 per cent with honours and 36 per cent with academic status, according to information available on the board's website.
McCormack said since school boards in Newfoundland and Labrador were consolidated in 2005, which lead to the creation of the Nova Central School District, they’ve been looking at ways to improve student performance.
According to McCormack, a number of years ago Nova Central identified several issues with respect to student performance. One of those issues, he said, was that there were too many students graduating with a general certificate that were capable of achieving academic or honour status.
Before changes were made to the system, students were able to choose before they entered Grade 10 if they wanted to pursue an academic or general diploma.
McCormack said while the general program has a place for students who are not capable of participating in the academic program, many students were choosing to enroll in general studies because it was the “path of least resistance.”
“We talk about (these improvements) in numbers, but what matters is all those percentages mean a lot more kids will have a lot more opportunities.” - – Charlie McCormack
“There’s a legitimate place for some children to be in the general program, and we do value the general program,” he explained. “But you cannot get into university with a general diploma. Students were making that decision in Grade 9, and Grade 9 is not the best time to be making such a life-changing decision.”
Now, McCormack said, the decision is based partly on marks going into tenth grade, but the students past marks and overall capability is taken into account.
“We go back sometimes to their Grade 3 or Grade 6 (standardized testing) results,” he said. “A child might not be doing great in Grade 9, but we know through their testing over the years that the child is perfectly capable.”
Another issue McCormack said the NCSD hoped to tackle was lower-than-ideal graduation rates.
He said over the past number of years teachers have been using a multi-pronged approach, which focuses on early detection of students who are at risk of failing.
“If we identify we have got these people who are having trouble in October or November, you do have time to correct it and work with them,” he said.
In certain courses, if students are still having trouble by April or May, schools will send home letters to parents, and the child will be given the option to participate in extra classes online, and work one-on-one with a support teacher.
“The improvements did not come easily,” said McCormack. “…We reviewed school performance data, changed a lot of practices in schools and in the classroom, and focused on supporting the individual student to succeed as much as possible.”
McCormack said the improvements are, in part, the result of hard work by teachers.
“A lot of teachers are behind the scenes doing a lot of extra work with students to help them through,” he said.
The aim of the NCSD is to make sure every student has the opportunity to be successful, McCormack said, and he feels they’re on the right path.
“We talk about (these improvements) in numbers, but what matters is all those percentages mean a lot more kids will have a lot more opportunities.”