Islands’ secondary schools rank near the bottom of this year’s Fraser Institute secondary school report card, and the overall rating at both schools has declined in the last five years.
Queen Charlotte Secondary scored fourteenth from the bottom and George M. Dawson Secondary scored second from the bottom.
The islands’ secondary schools are not alone. Overall, northern schools along Hwy 16 and the Alaska Highway did badly, with all northern communities except Houston scoring in the bottom half of the list.
The Fraser Institute annually rates the overall academic performance of 279 BC public and private schools using eight indicators including graduation rate and average provincial grade 12 examination marks.
School District Superintendent Mike Woods questions the very narrow focus of the Fraser Institute’s criteria for ranking schools.
“We have a few problems with the Fraser Institute ranking. We don’t think they provide an accurate assessment of how schools are doing or how student are learning,” says Mr. Woods.
“It’s a problem for us because most of the criteria for their ranking is from exam scores and graduation rates and we think that for small schools with small student populations it’s not very accurate because a few student can skew the results,” says Mr. Woods. Still, he says, “we honestly think there is room for improvement for the students in our district.”
The School District has an accountability contract, a copy of which is available at the www.sd50.bc.ca, that outlines those areas the district has targeted for improvement: literacy, social responsibility and numeracy. “We set up specific performance targets and next September/October we will analyse the data we’ve collected,” says Mr. Woods. Some of the criteria used to measure improvement will be the foundation skills assessment, grade promotion, literacy scores and provincial exam scores.
Parents are concerned about exam scores and graduation rates, says Mr. Woods, but they are equally concerned about things the Fraser Institute doesn’t measure such as success in Haida language and studies, art, sports and leadership opportunities. Mr. Woods says all the people in the school district – teachers, teachers’ aides, and principals – are available to provide parents and students with a broad assessment of student achievement and school performance, says Mr. Woods.
Duncan White of the district teacher’s association thinks the Fraser Institute focuses too narrowly on measurable data. “They have no interest in anything they can’t measure,” he says.
“The problem with the Fraser Institute report is that it focuses on some limited data – that we certainly can’t ignore-but it uses it to come up with statistics that may or may not have meaning” says Mr. White.
“I don’t think we should be burying our heads in the sand about this, but they don’t include participation numbers,” says Mr. White. “For instance, in Queen Charlotte Secondary, we encourage students to try things that they are interested in even if they may not do well. We don’t restrict them. Many schools in the province restrict students’ entry into more academic courses like History 12 or Algebra 12, which tends to give them higher results. My personal opinion is that streaming for the school’s PR would be wrong, but it may be sometimes appropriate for the students overall educational benefit.”
Mr. White says there are important things the Fraser Institute report card does not measure. For instance, he suggests that another way of thinking about student success would be to measure how well students are doing a few years after graduation.
“Are they leading productive, satisfying lives? If the school system is really having an effect on students lives that would seem to be an important measurement,” says Mr. White.
“If our schools are indeed in need of more support then our government’s removal of funds from isolated rural school districts certainly won’t help alleviate problems or improve things” says Mr. White.
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