Local education officials have once again challenged the appropriateness of ranking schools against each other after the Fraser Institute’s annual report card on B.C. elementary schools was released on Monday (March 4).
The annual analysis uses data from the Foundation Skills Assessment province-side standardized tests for Grade 4 and 7 students to determine how well they are learning basic skills like reading, writing and math.
Sea to Sky School District superintendent Lisa McCullough said beyond being a single data point, the rankings don’t offer useful information to parents, educators or school districts.
“What really matters to school districts, what is really effective for students and for teachers without question, are the authentic assessments that teachers do in the classroom — that is the information that drives learning that drives action that supports districts and planning … that is where parents can rely on information being valid and reliable,” she said.
McCullough said because the report card is based on the FSA results it is problematic, as those numbers are based on a single test taken by students in those two grades and doesn’t consider the broader educational context.
“It is too far away from the child for one thing,” she said. “It is comparing apples and oranges. It is comparing test scores without any other context, so there is no school-based context — it is a one shot deal where a child writes a test on one day,” she said. “Ranking of schools based on a one shot test, in our opinion, would be questionable in terms of ethics. It is not an ethical thing to do, it is not meaningful enough to draw conclusions from. So then therefore what would the point of it be?
“We don’t support the institute rankings whatsoever, we do not use them, we do not reflect
on them, we do not consider them.”
In a press release Fraser Institute director of school performance studies Peter Cowley said one of the benefits of FSAs is to measure improvements at individual schools, as 46 elementary schools showed significant improvement in their academic performances over the past five years according to the rankings.
The Fraser Institute report also includes information about each schools’ make-up, including the average income of parents, the percentage of ESL students and special needs students. It rated 853 public and independent elementary schools based on 10 academic indicators based on the FSA results.
The report stated the rankings can be used by parents to compare schools across the province and encourages schools to improve performance.
“By pinpointing the subject areas in which individual schools are improving or declining and how their academic performance compares to that of other B.C. schools over the past five years, our report helps educators prioritize learning challenges in their schools,” Cowley said.
Locally Myrtle Philip Community School ranked 62 on the list with an overall rating of 8.6 out of 10 in 2012, down slightly from 8.8 in 2011. Further, that school has 12.7 per cent of students in ESL and 5.7 per cent with special needs.
Spring Creek Community School was ranked 77, with an overall rating of 8.4, up from 6.4 in 2011. It showed ESL at 11.7 per cent, special needs at 7.8 per cent and French immersion at 26.1 per cent of the school population.
In Pemberton Signal Hill Elementary ranked 715, with an overall rating of 4.2 compared to 5 in 2011. At that school ESL represents 18.1 per cent, special needs 10.7 per cent and French immersion 6.7 per cent of the school population.
Sea to Sky Teachers Association president Carl Walker echoed the superintendent’s concerns when it came to the validity of the rankings.
“I just don’t think it reflects all the various assessments that teachers do of their students,” he said. “In our district over the past couple of years we are moving towards more authentic student assessment and away from high stakes testing.”
That being said, Walker went on to question the motivation of the Fraser Institute to put together the annual school report cards.
“The Fraser Institute is an extreme right-wing ideological think tank and I think their agenda is to privatize public services such as education of health care,” he said.
The rankings can be found at www.compareschoolrankings.org.