When it comes to the Fraser Institute’s school performance rankings, the apples-to-apples comparison may not be painting an accurate picture of what is actually occurring in the schools.
For some school administrators, the institute’s annual report, released last week, is probably the last thing they look at in terms of how well a student is actually doing, explained Jayson Lovell, Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) superintendent. Indeed, the report garners little-to-no parent feedback as well.
“It is a very narrow picture and data set around the performance of a school within our district,” explained Lovell.
“There’s no communication from the Fraser Institute in regards to the results (to schools),” he said.
The most recent Report Card on Alberta’s Elementary Schools ranks 790 elementary schools in the province using Grade 6 provincial achievement tests (PAT) starting from 2012 to 2016. Also used in the data are factors such as the percentage of students with English as a second language as well as the percentage of students with special needs and those registered in French immersion studies.
A brief look at Ponoka placed Ponoka Elementary School 628 out of 790 with a score of 4.8 out of 10. Grade 6 results from 2014 to 2016 are available (2012 to 2013 do not have data) with a total of 72 Grade 6 students enrolled. In those results are average marks from English language arts (58.9 for 2016), math (58.7 for 2016), science (68 for 2016) and social studies (60.4 for 2016).
There are a complete range of tools administrators and teachers use to assess each student’s performance. Relying on PAT results — a test taken once a year for a couple hours — doesn’t give a clear picture of performance, stated Lovell. Administration spends little time discussing the rankings, he offered, suggesting the report is somewhat akin to an autopsy. “It’s information from our results from back in June.”
Planners are working more with current information.
“Ranking schools is not necessarily a useful exercise because schools across the province and demographics are extremely different,” said Lovell. “We recognize that students in Ponoka are different from students in northern Alberta.”
Lovell adds that even within the WCPS area student demographics are diverse.
WCPS’ evaluation uses an annual report provided by Alberta Education — the governing body of all Alberta schools — that takes in parent surveys administered January and February every year. This survey is given to parents of students in Grades 4, 7 and 10. If a school population is under 150, all parents are surveyed.
A second part of the report received later in the year includes information on graduation rates, Rutherford Scholarship rates, achievement and diploma exams and brings the satisfaction results from earlier in the year.
“That information really does drive a lot the work that we do to analyze how our schools are performing,” said Lovell.
Once those results are available all WCPS schools then put together a long-term plan of action called ACE (Action, Collaboration and Evidence). “In that plan they actually have to have goals, strategies…that’s more a year-long approach that we use.”
Students are also given individual benchmark testing from Grades 1 to 9. This is done twice per year and it’s results from tests like this that drive individual student growth.
St. Augustine Catholic School is ranked 378 out of 790 with a 2016 score of 6.2 out of 10. The scores for Grade 6 tests are for English language arts (69.4 for 2016), math (65.2 for 2016), science (71 for 2016) and social studies (66.9 for 2016) with a total of 53 students.
A request for comment from St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Schools brought a short email response from superintendent Troy Davies.
“Even as we appreciate the efforts of the Fraser Institute and notwithstanding the ranking tables they create,” explained Davies. “We rely much more profoundly on our annual Provincial Accountability Pillar results and various customized divisional assessments to provide us with an accurate measure of our performance.”
“We use these latter measures to help identify our strengths that can be further built upon, and also to target areas for continuous improvement,” said Davies.
Ponoka Christian School was not included in the results as the number of students enrolled at the time were below 10.
Fraser Institute does provide a comparison website to those interested: alberta.compareschoolrankings.org.