The always interesting and often controversial Fraser Institute school rankings are out for elementary schools and the two schools in Grand Forks have improved their “grades” since last year and moved up in the rankings.
According to their website, the Fraser Institute’s “Report Card” on B.C.’s elementary schools show which schools are improving and which ones are falling behind in academics. The report card ranks 944 public and independent elementary schools based on 10 academic indicators derived from the province-wide Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA). The controversial FSAs take into account the average FSA scores in Grade 4 and Grade 7 in three seperate categories: reading, writing and numeracy.
The report cards are meant to assist parents when they choose a school for their children and encourages and assists all those seeking to improve their schools.
Both Grand Forks elementary schools, D.A. Perley and John A. Hutton, were involved. Christina Lake Elementary School and the schools in the West Boundary were considered not big enough to qualify.
Hutton ranked 432nd out of 944 schools in B.C. in 2015, up slightly from 463rd in 2014. Hutton is ranked 266 out of 757 in the last five years. Average scores for Grade 4 in 2015 were: reading 506 (up two from 2014); writing 537 (down 48); and numeracy 477 (down 11). Average scores for Grade 7 in 2015 were: reading 492 (up 24 from 2014); writing 518 (down 51); and numeracy 490 (up 12). Overall rating for Hutton in 2015 was 6.1 (same as 2014).
Perley, ranked 688th out of 944, had a huge jump up from 916th in 2014. Perley is ranked 555th out of 757 in the last five years. Average scores for Grade 4 in 2015 were: reading 460 (down 17 from 2014); writing 474 (down 55); and numeracy 426 (down 48). Average scores for Grade 7 in 2015 were: reading 476 (down 35 from 2014); writing 511 (up 16); and numeracy 457 (up 41). Overall rating for Perley for 2015 was 5.0 (up 1.7 from 2014).
Perley has 13.4 per cent special needs and a total Grade 4 enrolment of 22, while Hutton has 10.5 per cent special needs and a total Grade 4 enrolment of 42.
By comparison, Kinnaird Elementary in Castlegar was ranked 644th out of 944 with an Grade 4 enrolment of 45. Rossland Elementary was ranked 280th out of 944 with a Grade 4 enrolment of 50.
Norm Sabourin, president of the Boundary District Teachers’ Association, said the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) doesn’t put a lot of value in the FSA results due to the fact it is just a small snapshot of what goes on in a school year and it doesn’t tell the whole picture.
“The union doesn’t see the results as being valid given that a number of students are pulled out of the exam by their parent and if they do so they are given a score of zero to go toward the overall ranking,” said Sabourin. “That counts against the average score. It’s really not that valid.”
Sabourin said that the union (BCTF) believes that a random sample from students would be much more accurate. “You don’t have to test every single student and record their score to get some systemic information,” he said. “What we would rather to see is a random sample of Grade 4s from around the province write the test each year and a random sample of Grade 7s write the test each year. If there are any concerning trends in the results then it would be up to the Ministry [of Education] to work with the BCTF to look at changing parts of the curriculum or the delivery system or things like that in a systemic way—not let’s rank which school is better than another based on a tiny snap shot and not the whole picture.”
Sabourin said that the teacher’s union is working with the ministry to come up with an alternative to the FSAs for next year. “The BCTF position from the get-go is that we always wanted it to be a random sample,” he said. “Worst case scenario, the BCTF desperately doesn’t want the ranking of schools. There are teachers working on a new bank of tests, a new format of a provincial assessment. BCTF leaders are working with the ministry to figure out how better to use the data so that schools can’t be ranked and compared. It just doesn’t work well.”
Sabourin added that the BCTF is hoping this will be the last year of the FSAs as they are now and the rankings of schools so the province can move on to a system that “is much better for students.”
“So any testing that happens, it looks at the big picture changes and not which school is better,” he said. “Lets look at the system and if there are tweaks that are needed in the system then lets get results that will help us do that.”
Kevin Argue, superintendent for School District 51 (Boundary), said the Fraser Institute report cards are not used as a major data source for schools. “Especially the elementary results, which are just based on the FSAs,” he said. “The secondary one there is a bit more weight to it. It’s a piece of information but you don’t plan your whole school based on it. The information the school has on their students and the district has with their assessments we find much more valid on how kids are doing.”
Argue said that the schools don’t give the rankings much validity. “You don’t know what students took the test on any particular year,” said Argue. “You really can’t make those kind of judgements based on this information. It’s ministry information that the Fraser Institute gets ahold of and how they present the data is not something we put a lot of validity into or do a lot of planning around.”
Argue said that nothing has been finalized for next year, but that the Ministry of Education and the BCTF have been looking at a number of assessments for next year. “They’re certainly reviewing with an eye on ensuring the data isn’t used in a way it wasn’t intended,” he said. “When the Fraser Institute puts this information out publicly, it’s not the intention of the FSA assessments.”
Argue said the ministry and the teachers are interested in gathering data to help determine how the system is doing provincially but not in a way that would allow groups like the Fraser Institute to take it and build these tables to compare schools without all the information.