Public schools in the Campbell River School District (SD72) have scored extremely low on the most recent Fraser Institute Report Card of British Columbia’s Elementary Schools.
Superintendent of Schools Tom Longridge, however, says people shouldn’t read too much into the numbers.
The highest-ranking public elementary school in SD72 was L’École Willow Point Elementary, which came in at No. 478 out of the 956 schools ranked.
The next highest SD72 school on the list was Sandowne, which was ranked all the way down at 721.
The ratings of schools by the Fraser Institute in its report card use the results of the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) test given to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students annually to generate its rankings.
And therein lies the main problem, Longridge says.
While the Fraser Institute bases its scoring on 10 different indicators to give them statistical relevance, all of those indicators are founded on the results of one test, which Longridge says makes it less reliable in terms of applicable data.
“They have to break out mechanisms to make it look like there are multiple elements to their system, but it’s really all predicated on the FSA itself and everything surrounding that,” Longridge says. “They make it look like they’re taking 10 elements into account, but it’s all one.”
And the FSA itself has been fraught with controversy over the years.
The BC Teachers’ Federation, for example, has a long history of disagreeing with the very premise of the Fraser Institute’s report card and the FSA, going so far as calling the annual report card an “attack on public schools,” and sending out letters encouraging parents to exempt their children from taking the test saying, “we should never allow a single test to be allowed to pit school communities against each other, but that is exactly what happens every year and it’s time we worked together to end this misleading practice.”
Campbell River and District Teachers’ Association President Dave Harper responded to the Mirror’s questions about the ranking by saying he “won’t waste time commenting” on the report card, simply calling it “garbage.”
While Longridge is a bit more diplomatic in his response to the report, he also admits, “the mechanism that they use to attribute scores is problematic. That’s why there’s so much resistance among public school teachers in the province, and that’s why there’s a lot of resistance to the FSA instrument itself. It calls the results of the FSA into question, just because of the political nature of the Fraser Institute’s rankings.”
Longridge also says SD72 is “at somewhat of a disadvantage” in scoring based on the way the Fraser Institute makes its calculations.
“We have middle schools, and seven of the elements of the Fraser Institute’s 10 rankings are connected to both Grade 4 and Grade 7, but our Grade 7s are in a different school, so while I know it can be argued that it’s the same kids, it’s not necessarily, when you look at how its put together.”
There are other factors that Longridge says call the report card into question, as well.
“It also penalizes schools that have fewer students participating in the testing and advantages private schools and those that are in areas of higher socio-economic status.”
The Fraser Institute itself cautions against using its report card to make a decision about what school a child should attend, saying that although its report card “provides a valuable tool for making a decision,” in that regard, it also adds, “the choice of school should not be made solely on the basis of a single source of information,” and, “a sound academic program should be complimented by effective programs in areas of school activity not measured by the report card.”
That is an assessment with which Longridge can agree.
“It’s really difficult to pick out anything in the Fraser Institute rankings that is helpful to schools,” he says. “It might be perceived to be helpful to parents, because it distills some very complex elements into a single dimension they can rank, but I think it’s very much a misrepresentation of what goes into a school.”
Longridge says that’s one of the main obstacles in trying to gauge any school’s success, and it makes data collection and summary very difficult.
“How do you count things that matter rather than counting things that you can count? That’s the dilemma we’re in,” Longridge says.
“I’m very proud of the work that teachers in this school community do and how dedicated they are to their profession, to the students and to student outcomes.
“So yes, it’s a concern when you see that not being valued by something that just has a quantitative figure that isn’t what’s representative of what’s happening in that school.”