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Dramatic improvement for Ontario students enrolled in Paul Martin’s aboriginal education pilot projects

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By Roderick Benns

A four-year project spearheaded by former Prime Minister Paul Martin to improve student achievement on two Ontario reserves has yielded impressive results, new data from the final report reveals.

The project ran from 2010 to 2014 at Kettle and Stony Point First Nation and Walpole Island First Nation. The two reserves partnered with the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative to see if such long-term, focused efforts on reading and writing would be successful in raising student achievement scores as measured by EQAO – the same test that all Ontario students take in Grades 3 and 6.

The two schools involved in the long-term project were Hillside School, operated by Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, and Walpole Island Elementary School, operated by Walpole Island First Nation. Both schools offer Senior Kindergarten to Grade 8. English is the language of instruction and Ojibwa is taught at all grade levels.

The program was called Wiiji Kakendaasodaa, or, in English, Let’s All Learn. When it began, most students did not meet the provincial standards in reading or writing. However, when the program ended, most students met or exceeded provincial standards.

Other Facts from the final report

  • Individual schools exceeded provincial achievement levels at times.
  • During the program, 26 students completed the EQAO in Grade 3 (2011) and again in Grade 6 (2014) – 69 percent of those students maintained or rose to the provincial standard in reading between those grades, and 73 percent maintained or rose to the provincial standard in writing.
  • In reading, girls outperformed boys every year during the program – 71 percent of girls and 62 percent of boys in Grade 3, and 78 percent of girls and 64 percent of boys in Grade 6 met or exceeded the provincial standard in 2013-2014.
  • No consistent differences in writing were evident between boys and girls.

The program was developed with assistance from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. To work toward success in the program, schools increased teaching time for reading and writing and teachers were engaged in continuous, intensive, professional learning.

All students — 473 in total — who were enrolled in Senior Kindergarten to Grade 6 during the program participated, 233 boys and 240 girls. During the program, the percentage of students identified for speech and language services decreased from 45 percent to 19 percent in Senior Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The report concludes that there is every reason to expect that with effective teaching, “First Nations students can excel as speakers, listeners, readers and writers in two or more languages and enjoy all the associated cultural, social, educational and economic benefits.”

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