The territorial government is taking steps that it hopes will lead to better student outcomes nearly three years after an auditor general’s report slammed the Department of Education for falling short of understanding and addressing long-standing gaps.
Meanwhile, the latest student data released March 9 shows there continue to be gaps between rural and urban students, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
In a March 9 news release, the Yukon government said it is moving forward on its commitment to create a student outcome strategy that will improve student outcomes in the Yukon, including for First Nations students, rural students and students with diverse learning needs.
The development of a student outcome strategy directly addresses a recommendation in the June 2019 auditor general of Canada’s report on kindergarten through Grade 12 education in the territory.
One recommendation of the seven listed in the auditor general’s report specifically calls for the Education Department to develop and implement a strategy to address long-standing gaps in student performance and improve student outcomes, particularly for Yukon First Nations and rural students. The report outlines the strategy should include analyzing the root causes of poor student outcomes, defining performance targets, developing and implementing actions to meet those targets, and evaluating the effectiveness of these actions to improve student outcomes.
During an interview on March 10, Kelli Taylor, the assistant deputy minister for policy and partnerships in the department of Education, said that while work on the student outcome strategy was delayed due to COVID-19, the recommendation is one the department “absolutely agreed” with.
“It’s really important that we start digging into that work now,” Taylor said.
“While we regularly assess students on their learning, the student outcome strategy is also going to look at identifying performance targets we’d like students to meet, and how we will implement actions to help reach those targets, and a way to evaluate if those actions are actually working.”
The data that is being tracked may change over the process of creating the strategy. “For example, maybe not just looking at students’ academic achievement, but also their sense of belonging and connectedness to their school community,” Taylor said.
IRP Consulting has been contracted to begin to gather feedback and include input from Yukon First Nations governments on the development of an approach to improve student outcomes.
“We need a deeper understanding of what’s happening for Yukon learners to be able to make evidence-based decisions that help to support all Yukon students to succeed,” Taylor said.
Following the work with Yukon First Nations governments, Taylor said, there will be opportunities to hear from students and others with vested interests.
Taylor expects the final product will be ready going into the upcoming 2022-23 school year.
Gap in graduation rates
According to the March 9 news release, the department created a performance and analytics unit in 2018 to better manage and analyze student performance data, and a joint data working group was created in 2020 with the chiefs committee on education to improve data sharing with Yukon First Nations about student outcomes.
Yukon-wide student data reports on student enrollment, attendance, graduation rates and territory-wide assessments are published each year for the previous school year.
The 2020-21 report tracks student graduation rate counts by region and whether they identified themselves as Yukon First Nations, other Indigenous or non First Nations.
The latest numbers show graduation rates Yukon-wide were the lowest in 2020-21 out of the last six school years in the report, at 74 per cent or 306 successful graduates out of 411 potential graduates.
The rural graduation rate was also the lowest, at 65 per cent or 41 out of 63 potential graduates. That’s compared to the urban rate of 76 per cent or 306 out of 411 potential graduates.
As for the breakdown by self-identification status, the graduation rate among Yukon First Nation students was 66 per cent or 65 out of 98 potential graduates.
The graduation rate was even lower for “other Indigenous” students, at 63 per cent or 22 out of 35 graduates.
That’s compared to 79 per cent of non-First Nation students who graduated, or 219 out of 278 potential graduates.
What the auditor general’s report says
The auditor general’s 2019 report found the Yukon Department of Education did not do enough to understand and address long-standing gaps in student outcomes, particularly for those of Yukon First Nations and rural students.
“We found that 10 years after our previous  audit, gaps in student outcomes continued to exist between First Nations and non-First Nations students. We also found that gaps in student outcomes existed between rural and urban students,” reads the report.
“We also found that the Department of Education had made little effort to identify the root causes of gaps in student outcomes to better understand them. Without this perspective, the Department could not ensure that its supports for students were the right ones to improve student outcomes.”
The audit notes this finding matters because the department cannot ensure that it focuses its time and resources on where they are needed most, nor can it determine what causes may be outside of its control.
“In addition, without a strategy to close the gaps in student outcomes, the Department cannot know how well it is addressing these gaps. If the Department waits too long to identify, understand, and address the root causes of these gaps, another generation of students could be affected for a lifetime,” reads the audit.
The department’s response in the auditor general’s report acknowledged at the time that it had “not implemented a comprehensive strategy for measuring and analyzing differences in student outcomes and for targeting initiatives to address these differences.”
The section on student outcomes in the department’s 2019 annual report on the state of education, which is signed off by then-minister of Education Tracy-Anne McPhee, indicates discussions had already began with Yukon First Nations and the advisory committee for Yukon education “about a framework of student outcomes and performance indicators, to develop and implement a strategy to look at system data, focus on root causes affecting student performance, set targets with specific actions to support improvement and evaluate their effectiveness.”
In the annual report, the department had originally expected to have an initial strategy in place by August 2020.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org