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South Okanagan school officials disregard rankings

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Seven local elementary schools showed improvement last year, according to new ratings released this week by the Fraser Institute.

Uplands, Kaleden and Trout Creek Elementary Schools ended up in a three-way tie atop the local ratings with identical scores of 7.7 out of 10, which translated into a ranking of 141st out of 853 B.C. schools on the list.

The ratings are based on the results of standardized Foundational Skills Assessment tests written during the 2011-12 school year by students in Grades 4 and 7. The tests evaluate their reading, writing and math abilities.

Educators typically dismiss the ratings, and both the head of the local teachers’ union and a top school district administrator said Tuesday they hadn’t looked at the rankings.

“They just don’t mean anything to me anymore,” said Don MacIntyre, director of instruction for Okanagan Skaha School District.

“We’re very interested in our own results; we’re just not interested in comparison of our results to anyone else. It just doesn’t have any meaning to me.”

MacIntyre said pure test results don’t allow for fair school-versus-school comparisons since there are myriad other factors that aren’t considered.

“We don’t compare school-to-school, because that would be like saying the Queen’s Park catchment area is the same as the Wiltse catchment area, and it’s just not,” he said. “Socioeconomically, they’re completely different, so the demographic is different, which means you’re going to have different kinds of learners in each of those settings.”

Leslea Pryde, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union, said the results are also skewed because different districts have different policies on excluding, and excusing, kids from the FSA tests.

“Unfortunately, what happens is the public looks at these rankings and says, ‘Well, the teachers at this school are better than the teachers at the school that has a lower ranking.’ And that is so false,” Pryde said.

She said teachers see the value of some standardized tests, just not the model in place now.

“We’re not saying to eliminate the whole FSA to begin with, but do random samplings for a provincewide result, not school rankings.”

In a press release accompanying release of the results, the Fraser Institute’s Peter Cowley noted that three of the top 10 fastest-improving schools in B.C. are in Cranbrook.

“What are Cranbrook teachers doing that results in such significant improvement? The results they have achieved should be a beacon for educators across the province,” Cowley stated.

“This shows the value of the FSAs. Without standardized testing, we wouldn’t know about success stories like Cranbrook.”

The FSA results are not in the form of regular grades, but rather state simply whether each individual student is below, at, or above expectations for his or her grade in each of the subject areas.

Among local schools, Kaleden was rated best in that area as just 8.9 per cent of students were below expectations; Giant’s Head was at the opposite end of the spectrum as 25.6 per cent of its students produced test results considered below expectations.

 

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