Board chair says school rankings not a valid evaluation

Secondary schools in the South Okanagan have an average ranking when stacked up against the rest of the province according to the Fraser Institute.

Secondary schools in the South Okanagan have an average ranking when stacked up against the rest of the province according to the Fraser Institute.

Out of 274 high schools ranked in the 2009-2010 report released this week, Penticton Secondary ranks 112th, Princess Margaret Secondary ranks 135th and Summerland Secondary came in at 141st. In the South Okanagan Oliver ranks 119th and Osoyoos ranks 150th.

Ginny Manning, chair of Okanagan Skaha school district said there are better ways for parents to scout a school than the Fraser Institute rankings.

“The data that they use is very limited in scope. I don’t feel they are a valid evaluation of our high schools or any schools,” said Manning. “If parents are looking for a school or they want to know how a school is doing they need to go to that school and talk to the principal. If parents are interested in a particular school it’s a good idea for them to go there and get a feel for it and talk to the principal. They will get a much better idea of how the school is doing because it is such limited scope in the Fraser Institute.”

The five-year-average rating (out of 10) was 8.3 for independent schools and 5.9 for public schools. The Fraser Institute uses seven indicators to come up with the numbers by scoring average exam mark, percentage of exams failed, school versus exam mark difference, english gender gap, math gender gap, graduation rate and delayed advancement rate.

For the five-year rating Penticton Secondary received 6.7, Princess Margaret Secondary received 6.3 and Summerland Secondary received a 6.0. Oliver received a 5.9 and Osoyoos got a 6.5 rating.

“By displaying individual school results for the past five years, the report card offers a motion picture indicating whether a school has improved or declined over time. The idea is that every school is capable of improvement and that everybody should have easy access to clear, up-to-date information about the performance of the secondary schools in their province, territory and local community,” said Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies and co-author of the Report Card on Secondary Schools in British Columbia and Yukon 2011.

Summerland trustee Connie Denesiuk, past-president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, questioned the rankings and also encourages parents to go beyond them in researching prospective schools.

“A good school,” she said, “encompasses so much more” than just test results, which play a heavy role in the Fraser Institute ranking. Parents should look at all factors and take the time to visit potential schools to learn more about its actual resources and future plans, she said.

Critics note that the rankings do not consider non-testable activities such as the trades, the fine arts and the development of good citizenship, in short extra-curricular activities. The critics have also accused the Fraser Institute of failing to account for socio-economic differences that may favour students whose parents might be richer, therefore able to provide their children with additional educational advantages. The criticism stands to receive additional support this year as independent private schools in prosperous parts of the Greater Vancouver and Victoria areas occupy the first 10 spots. B.C.’s top public high school, University Hall Secondary which finished 12th, serves students in Vancouver’s ritzy Point Grey neighbourhood near the University of British Columbia.

The Fraser Institute said it would consider additional measures if it could find sufficient data to fairly rate schools, in stressing the comparative aspect of their research, which it believes is the key to improvement. The institute also acknowledged arguments that note a relationship between educational performance and economic background, but insist that schools can improve their performance regardless of the larger economic context.

Among the 65 countries/economies and 10 Canadian provinces that participated in the testing, B.C. ranked 16th in mathematics and eight in science and combined reading.

-with files from Summerland Review