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Prairie Valley School Division released its new strategic plan for 2017-2020, last month, and with it comes some new targets for the teachers within the division.

The division assesses the students within each classroom using diagnostic assessments tools like Fountas and Pinnell. They are designed to gauge how many students in each clase are performing at their grade level in subjects like reading and math.

Both Patrick Maze, President of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and Brian Endicott, Principal of Robert Southey school think the way students are assessed leads to a big challenge for teachers.

“That’s part of the challenge that teachers face, to identify which students are at grade level or below grade level. You don't want students that are overly bored in the classroom and you don’t want students who the instruction is way too far over their heads so they’re not going to understand what’s going on. So ya, part of the challenge is identifying where students are at,” said Maze.

 “That’s the whole philosophy about teaching the student instead of teaching the curriculum. That’s a skill by itself. We’ve got some veteran teachers here that really dig deep to bring these kids up and while at the same time keeping the ones that are making the grade on task and challenged as well,” said Endicott.

When there are tight budgets or cuts like last year’s 54 million dollar budget cut, it can add even more stress and make tailoring teaching to the meet the needs of the individual students even harder.

“In the times of the austerity budget that we’ve seen over the years, you have higher student numbers in your class and fewer supports to have the ability to recognize that diversity, so the more students you have and the more complex the problems combined with fewer support makes it a difficult situation for teachers to be able to teach the subject area,” said Maze.

The results of these assessments and the goals for the following school year, are set by the division and shown in the division’s annual strategic plans. “When you set your local targets you want it to be incremental. To jump from a baseline of 65 percent, for example, and have a target of 85 percent, the likely hood of achieving that target in one year is probably next to none,” said Ben Grebinski, CEO of Prairie Valley School Division. “Each year the target is adjusted based on what we think is reasonable to achieve.”

This year the division goals are to have slight increases of 1 or 2 per cent of students at grade level in all of the categories they assess, except for one. However, the target for writing levels is to increase from 53 per cent of students at grade level to 75 percent by the end of the year. Grebinski admits that sometimes the goals can be unrealistic to achieve in one year.

When asked why they would set goals that might be unrealistic in one year, Grebinski said, “Sometimes it’s just an arbitrary goal. There’s no magic. There’s no absolute predictor that you can go to, to say here’s the goal you should make. They’re arbitrary decisions made by local administration. The target development is an arbitrary number.”

When these “arbitrary” goals are set too high the division has resources in place to add a little more support. One of those resources are school division curriculum consultants, like Judson Trenholm, who work with teachers one on one to help them find the best practices. “There was a teacher that was struggling with how their class was going, so I came and watched her teach then helped her organize her classroom,” said Trenholm. “I mentioned how re-orienting the room would help and that should give more flexibility to deal with more students at the same time. Since then she’s felt more confident and has been better in the classroom.”

According to Patrick Maze, with tight budgets leading to less support staff there aren’t always enough resources for each teacher to focus on the needs of every individual student. “Nothing frustrates teachers more than identifying students that need special programming and the special programming not being there because of tight budgets,” said Maze.

Last week Premier Scott Moe addressed these concerns when he announced immediate mid-school year funding of 7.5 million dollars provided to assist dealing with frontline needs in the province’s school divisions. This is part of the total 30 million dollars that will be added to the 2018-19 education budget.