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Penticton school officials dismiss Fraser Institute rankings

The Fraser Institute has released its controversial annual rankings of B.C. secondary schools.

A number of South Okanagan schools were included in the rankings. Similkameen Secondary School in Keremeos received the highest ranking of the schools in the area, with a 6.6 out of 10, placing 98th of the 280 schools in the rankings. Oliver’s South Okanagan Secondary School received a 6.5, placing it in the 103rd spot, Penticton Secondary School scored 6.4, standing at 108th. Princess Margaret Secondary School and Summerland Secondary School received a 6.3 and 5.3 respectively, putting Princess Margaret at 119th on the rankings, and Summerland at 198th.

The rankings are based upon seven key indicators such as average exam mark and differences between students’ exam and class marks in grades gleaned from students’ test results, as well as students’ likelihood to graduate. However, the rankings have inspired some controversy in regards to their fairness and statistical validity.

“I don’t put any stock in it,” said Kevin Epp, president of the Okanagan-Skaha Teachers’ Union. “It completely devalues the great things some of our schools do, from breakfast programs to all the other educational elements in place. It’s a really flawed way of doing things.

“I’ll leave it to the parents to assess the value of their local school.”

Mike Sproule is a parent whose son Zak attends Grade 9 at Penticton Secondary. He said he is generally happy with his son’s education experience.

“I think as a general school that offers a broad range of things to a broad range of kids, I think it’s great,” he said. “There are other schools, I’m sure, that are more academic oriented or sports oriented then (Penticton Secondary) is, but overall I think it’s pretty good.”

However, he said that if he saw his son’s school falling behind in the rankings, he would consider other options for schools.

Okanagan Skaha School District board chair Ginny Manning said she doesn’t even bother looking at the Fraser Institute’s rankings.

“We generally don’t give much credibility to the Fraser Institute and their rankings,” said Manning. “They don’t use all the information available, and it’s an unfair assessment of our schools. There are many other things that go into a school and into teaching students that are relevant, and you put them all together to make an appropriate assessment, and the Fraser Institute only used very narrow criteria.”

Peter Cowley, director of school performance studies at the Fraser Institute, acknowledged the limitations of the institute’s study.

“The fact of the matter is that the report card doesn’t take into account or doesn’t look at a variety of what could be legitimate aims of school,” said Cowley, pointing to developing a healthy lifestyle through sports, as well as participation in fine arts and acquiring citizenship skills.

“All those things, and more, are good, solid aspects of education that one would hope the schools are effective in.”

While noting the study’s shortcomings, he defended its results from critics.

“It’s not the report card they’re against. What they’re against is the ability for anyone — whether they be an educator, one of their own members or a parent — to be able to compare one school or another on achievement, aside from basketball — somehow the sports have gotten away from it.

“It’s called comparison for improvement’s sake, and for somebody — anybody — involved in education to say comparison for improvement’s sake is wrong, they shouldn’t be in the system.”

However, Wendy Hyer, the superintendent for the Okanagan Skaha district, disagreed with the notion of using the ranking system for comparison.

“I think school districts and schools and teachers do that on a regular basis; they are always looking for ways to reflect on practice, do things better and they network with people in other districts,” Hyer said. “We don’t need a ranking from a Fraser Institute to initiate that work.”

The No. 1 spot was given to Vancouver’s York House, a private school which received the maximum score of 10. Private schools topped the rankings, with only two public schools breaching the top 21.

Cowley offered an explanation for this trend, saying “Unlike the public schools, there is a substantial and present motivation for being at the top of the list. Now, being at the top of the list means something else; it doesn’t mean, ‘Oh, we want to send our kids to a school that’s highly rated.’  What they want to do is to send their kids to a school where academic achievement is expected to be good. (Private) schools have to ensure that what they promised the parents actually comes true, and that doesn’t happen in public schools.”

However, Hyer provided a different reason for private schools domination of the rankings.

“I think that they are very selective in who they allow into their programs and schools, quite often its the people who have the ability to pay the tuition, whereas public school is much more reflective of the community at large,” she said. “So we provide an excellent program to all students, not just the select few.”

 

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