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Fraser Institute gives Ponoka schools a passing grade — barely


Ponoka schools don’t fare too well according to one Canadian think-tank.

The Fraser Institute recently released its annual rankings on schools across Alberta and Ponoka Composite High School (PCHS) and St. Augustine were critiqued by the research organization.

PCHS received a rating of 5.5 out of 10.

The research takes into account: the average exam mark, percentage of exams failed, gender gaps, diploma completion rate, and the courses taken per student as well as other number based statistics.

PCHS has trended down since 2006 when it received a high rating of 6.9. The school is ranked 185th out of 273 schools in the Report Card for 2008-09.

Principal Ian Rawlinson wasn’t happy with the results but doesn’t believe they tell the whole truth.

“There is a 20 to 25 per cent drop out rate in Alberta and you know what, we’re not there. We’re not even close to that. We could be 10-per-cent higher pretty easily and I know what 10 per cent of my school I need to take out to make it happen. Am I better to take them out? Or give them a chance to get through? And I wholeheartedly believe I’m better to give them a chance,” said Rawlinson

The area of most concern is found in the percentage of diploma exams failed. Last year 12.3 per cent of students failed an exam and that number was the highest it’s been in the last four years. This year that number almost doubled to 24.4 per cent.

“We do not exempt any students from exams. If they are enrolled in a course they have to stick it out and write that exam…We don’t allow our kids to opt out…The reality is I could raise this number by 10 or 15 per cent by kicking some students out and that’s probably my biggest concern with it (the report card). I’m not satisfied but given the fact I have a lot of kids that would have traditionally been at an outreach school with all of the challenges they bring and they too are writing these exams, one could see that as a success,” said Rawlinson.

“I believe that when kids sign up for something they should finish it and give it their best shot.”

Females tend to do better in both English-30 and Pure Math-30. Girls’ marks were 0.7 per cent higher in English and 1.6 per cent better in Math.

Those number gaps have been narrowing compared to the last four years, in 2007 the gender gap was 7.8 per cent in English and in 2006 the gap was 3.5 per cent in Math, both in favor of females.

The report card from the Fraser Institute also takes into consideration the parents’ average income versus the predicted rating based on that income. The average income is $66,800 and the predicted ranking is 5.7 meaning the school falls short by -0.2 marks out of 10 based on a predicted ranking when looking at average income. The negative difference suggests the school is ineffective in enabling its students to succeed regardless of their family’s characteristics according to Fraser Institute.

Rawlinson said it doesn’t take a long look at the rankings to understand how they can be manipulated.

“If you go to the top of the list of rankings in the province…they are the private and charter schools. The reason for that is ‘who do they take into their schools?’ They are allowed to turn away kids. The concern I have with it is success for all kids means when they knock on your door you say, ‘Hi, welcome to Ponoka Composite High School, we’ve got some things to work on and we’re going to do it together,’ versus ‘Hi, you’re not good enough to come to Ponoka Composite High School’ therefore find the education you need elsewhere,” said Rawlinson.

PCHS has received an outstanding achievement award from the Fraser Institute based on the school’s results when considering the demographic of kids the school enrolls.

St. Augustine elementary school gets same grade

St. Augustine elementary school scored a rating of 5.5 out of 10 based on test scores from grades 3 and 6.

The school is ranked 412th out of the 654 schools that took part in the Report Card and remains constant at 5.5 after receiving the same mark last year and up from 2008 when the school had a low mark of 4.5.

Principal Kevin Prediger didn’t want to comment on the mark the school received from the Fraser Institute.

Gender gap is an interesting area of comparison. In 2008, Grade 6 girls dominated Language Arts earning 13.4 percentage points higher than their gender counterpart. In 2010 that number reversed seeing boys see a slight advantage, 2.6 per cent better.

Exam marks across all subjects have stayed relatively consistent bouncing anywhere between the mid to upper 60’s.

St. Augustine’s parents’ average income is $59,400. The actual rating versus the predicted rating based on that income is -0.1 meaning the research suggests the school should have scored a 5.6 out of 10.

More than 16 per cent of tests written were failed, a number that has remained relatively constant over the past two years but was 8.5 per cent in 2007.

For more information or to see the Report Card visit