For the last several years, February has been a contentious time for the school system in British Columbia. That’s because two things happen at about this time of year: the annual provincewide Foundation Skills Assessment tests for Grade 4 and 7 students and the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of the province’s schools based on the results of last year’s FSA.
The question is whether the Fraser Institute’s “Report Card” has any value. They are, after all, a private company using the results of a Ministry of Education test — intended to provide a broad overview of the status of the province’s education system — to rank individual schools.
Reading, writing and math skills — the three areas the FSA measures — are basics everyone needs. Assessing whether the education system is doing a good job imparting those skills provides a good check on the system. But no two students, schools or school districts are alike enough in their needs to be slotted into a ranking system, particularly one that relies heavily on a single data source.
It’s no surprise that private schools are ranked the highest — their students are often from affluent families and they have few, if any, ESL or special needs students. Ignoring the biased ranking system, it might be argued that the Fraser Institute Report Card still provides a public service in pointing out the deficiencies in the system, like the effect economic conditions have on educational achievement.
There is always a reason why one school might be ranked higher or lower than another, but those reasons are unlikely to have anything to do with the quality of education at the school. Economic conditions, home situation and individual student needs are far more likely to be the culprits.
The question, then, lies in whether the provincial government is providing individual school districts with the resources needed to address the other factors, to give struggling students their best chance to succeed as well.