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Posts Tagged ‘Disciplinary Climate’

“All that glitters is not gold” is a famous proverb plucked from William Shakespeare‘s play The Merchant of Venice that may well apply to recent international appraisals of K-12 education in Canada. Such rosy assessments tend to put a shiny lustre on what is essentially a sound and ‘pretty good’ school system that has lost ground to competing nations over the past decade.

Five years ago, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD) produced a rather rosy Education Policy Outlook for Canada as part of a series of reports offering comparative analysis of education policies and reforms across the world’s developed countries. Canada’s overall performance, aggregated from widely varied provincial assessment data, looked good, in comparison with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Most significantly, the OECD assessors brushed aside concerns about “plateaued student achievement” on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) tests and the decline in the proportion of top performing students.

Emerging concerns were most clearly expressed in Dr. Paul Cappon’s final 2010 report for the Canadian Council on Learning. Student scores on the 2009 PISA test had revealed that Canadian 15-year-olds demonstrated relatively strong sets of skills in reading, math and science, but they were already slipping relative to high performing Asian countries and in some cases in absolute terms. “What I’m hoping,” Cappon said at the outset of his final cross-Canada tour, “is that when people realize that Canada is slipping down the international learning curve we’re not going to be able to compete in the future unless we get our act together.”

OECD Education Policy Outlook assessments and Country reports are based upon templates that tend to favour diverse and well-funded school systems like that of Canada. The six identified policy levers in 2015 were: 1) equity and quality of education; 2) preparing students for the future; 3) school improvement; 4) evaluation and assessment; 5) governance; and 6) funding.  Such public policy forecasts, based upon conventional criteria and historic trends, also tend to demonstrate “path dependency” which limits the capacity to capture radical shifts in context or dynamic changes in educational direction.

Fifteen-year-old students in Canada, based upon triennial PISA tests from 2000 to 2018, continue to perform above the OECD average in reading, mathematics and science. Our most economically and socially disadvantaged students, in aggregate, do relatively better than those in competing countries, demonstrating more equity than in most other countries.  A considerably higher proportion of Canadian K-12 students proceed to post-secondary education in universities and colleges. That much has not changed across time.

Three significant changes can be identified from the accumulating OECD student assessment and survey data and they deserve far more critical scrutiny:

Downward Trend in Student Performance:  The performance trends for Canadian fifteen-year-olds are consistently downward from 2000 to 2018 in READING,  from 2003 to 2018 in MATHEMATICS, and from 2006 to 2018 in SCIENCE.  While the OECD average scores are also in decline as more countries are included in PISA, the descent is more pronounced among students from Canada. Students in Canada’s top performing provinces of Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec (Mathematics) tend to buoy-up the lagging results produced by students from New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Deteriorating Classroom Disciplinary Climate:

The 2015 Education Policy Outlook for Canada flagged one measure, based upon student survey responses, where Canada simply met the OECD standard – the index of classrooms conducive to learning (Figure 5, OECD Canada, 2015).  That largely undiagnosed problem has worsened over the past three years.  Canada ranked 60th out of 77 participating nations and educational districts in the OECD’s 2018 index of disciplinary climate, released on December 4, 2019.  According to a global student survey conducted in the spring of 2018, one in five students, 15 years-of-age, report that learning time is lost to noise, distractions, and disorder, so much so that it detracts from learning in class. A relatively high proportion of Canadian students say the teacher is not listened to and it takes a long time for the class to settle down. In addition, students regularly skip school and report late to class.

High Incidence of Fear of Failure:

Personal anxieties may also run higher among Canadian students when they confront writing standardized tests and experience a fear of failing the test. In Canada, the OECD 2019 Education GPS report states, “15-year-old students have a strong fear of failure”ranking 6th among 77 national student groups participating in the survey.  Fear of failure runs highest among students in Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Macau, Japan, and Germany, but is less pronounced in high performing countries such as Korea. Estonia, and Finland.  Such fears are present to the same degree among students in the United Kingdom, but less so in the United States.  No analysis whatsoever is offered to explain why fears run so comparatively high among teens in Canada.

The initial report on the Canadian Results of the OECD PISA 2018 Study, released by the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) in early December 2019, are of little help in evaluating these rather striking trends.  Like previous reports in the CMEC series, the report puts a positive spin on the aggregate results by casting them within a broad, global context, lumping together countries with radically different commitments to education in terms of spending and resources. It is possible to ferret out anomalies and to conduct province-by-province comparisons, but only with time, effort, and attention to detail. That is sufficient to keep it either buried or accessible only to education assessment specialists.

Does the Canadian Education Policy Outlook ventured in 2015 stand up under close analysis. five years on?  What’s missing from the OECD and CMEC assessment reports for Canada over the past decade?  Should the Canadian public be concerned about the downward trend in the demonstration of core skills in reading, mathematics and science?  Is disciplinary climate now a real concern in Canadian classrooms? And why are Canadian students so afraid of failing in our schools when grade promotion and graduation rates are at record levels?

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Canadian classrooms may well have an undiagnosed problem with students’ time-on-task. According to a global student survey conducted in the spring of 2018, one in five students, 15 years-of-age, report that learning time is lost to noise, distractions, and disorder, so much so that it detracts from learning in class. It’s also a problem that has worsened since the previous survey three years ago.

Canada ranked 60th out of 77 participating nations and educational districts in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s 2018 index of disciplinary climate, released on December 4, 2019.  The index is based on an international survey of 600,000 15-year-old students’ views about the state of student discipline in their classes. A relatively high proportion of Canadian students say the teacher is not listened to and it takes a long time for the class to settle down. In addition, students regularly skip school and report late to class.

While most mainstream media and education commentators focus on the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 test student achievement rankings in reading, mathematics and science, critically important survey data on the lived experience of students tends to get overlooked. Most Canadian educators are so totally wedded to current positive progressive discipline principles that there’s a blind spot when it comes to connecting deteriorating class climate with the stalling of student achievement.

Noise and disruptions are relatively common in Canadian language of instruction classes, and well above the average among the 77 jurisdictions completing the survey.  This is significant because students who report being unable to work well because of such distractions in most or every class scored 25 points lower in reading on the 2018 PISA test.

For most countries, classroom discipline improved between 2009 and 2018, the OECD report said.  Comparing student behaviour in 2015 in science classes with 2018 behaviour in English classes, student discipline has deteriorated with more students reporting that the teacher has to wait a long time for students to settle down, that students cannot work well, and don’t start learning until long after the beginning of the lesson.

Students are best behaved in school systems focused more on providing orderly, purposeful teaching, such as Korea, Japan and China, and other authoritarian countries. Classroom unruliness is far worse than in Canada in Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, Spain, the Philippines, Belgium and Australia.  Concerns run so high in Australia that it’s been publicly described as an “entrenched behaviour crisis.”

A total of 38.9 per cent of Canadian students reported there was noise or disorder in most or all of their classes, compared with 31.5 per cent across the OECD participating states. That’s far higher than in Korea (7.9 per cent), Japan (9.7 per cent), and top European performer, Estonia (23.6 per cent). It’s also more prevalent than in the United Kingdom ( 33.7 per cent) and the United States (28.2 per cent).

Student bullying among Canadian 15-year-olds is also reportedly higher than in the United States school system. One out of five students (19.2 per cent) report “being hit or pushed around by other students.” Only 2 per cent of Korean students report being bullied, and some school systems’ classrooms are downright dangerous places. In the Philippines, for example, three out of five students (60.2 per cent) claim to have been roughed-up during the course of a year.

Skipping school and arriving late to class are more common in Canada than in either the U.K. or the U.S. In the two weeks prior to the PISA test, some 23 per cent of Canadian students skipped between from 1 to 5 or more school days. One out of three skipped some classes and over half (52.3 per cent) arrived late for school from 1 to 5 or more times.

Speading ‘nasty rumours’ is an unpleasant aspect of student life. One out of four Canadian students (27.5 per cent) report being on the receiving end of such psycho-harassment by other students, similar to the situation in  U.S, schools.  It’s far more prevalent in both U.K. and Australia schools and relatively rare in Korea, where only 9.6 per cent report being the victim of personally damaging rumours.

Connecting changes in school disciplinary climate with students’ academic achievement challenges is long overdue in Canadian K-12 education. Struggling students in noisy and regularly disrupted classes, according to the OECD, do pay a price in terms of their scores in reading and presumably in other core subject areas.

School-wide Positive Behaviour Intervention Systems (SW-PBIS) have eclipsed other approaches to student behaviour management in Canada and in many of the countries where students report poor disciplinary climate.  It’s exemplified in schools with regular noise, distractions, and disorder where students skip school and regularly miss classes.

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Whether you favour SW-PBIS programs or not, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s a breakdown in effective classroom management. Far more attention has to be paid to responding to “behavourial violations” (where positive praise does not work) with planned and systematic strategies, including “brief, concise” correctives,  ‘planned ignoring,’ and the appropriate use of explicit reprimands.

Why do we focus so much on PISA student achievement rankings and tend to ignore the contextual analysis explaining the contributing factors?  Should we pay more attention to the OECD PISA survey data on student experiences?  How big a factor is “disciplinary climate” in creating optimum conditions for student learning and achievement?  Is it time to look at alternatives to school-wide positive behaviour supports and associated programs? 

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