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Mixed reaction from parents on school rankings

Wendy Simms says talking with parents is a more important consideration in choosing a school than a school ranking. - Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin
Wendy Simms says talking with parents is a more important consideration in choosing a school than a school ranking.
— image credit: Jenn McGarrigle/The News Bulletin

Janis Chung doesn't pay a lot of attention to the Fraser Institute's annual report card ranking elementary schools across the province.

She chose to take her son, now in Grade 3, to Pauline Haarer Elementary School because it is a single-track French immersion school, which means no English option is available.

"Having a second language gives you more opportunities and it's easier to pick up other languages," said Chung.

While she's talked to parents of children entering the school system who place some value on the Fraser Institute's rankings – although the document is not the only thing these parents considered – she has no idea how Pauline Haarer compares to other schools in the annual report.

"I would put more emphasis on the teachers there and their relationship with parents," said Chung, who is an active member of the school's parent advisory council.

Pauline Haarer ranked 313 out of 860 elementary schools, but even if it scored much lower, Chung wouldn't pull her child from the school.

"It's showing the kids are doing well in the area they're testing," she said. "But it's just a reflection of two grades of testing and that's not what makes a school."

The Fraser Institute's B.C. elementary school rankings, released earlier this month, compares a school's performance over time and with other schools. The rankings are based on 10 key indicators using data from the Foundation Skills Assessment, a set of provincially mandated tests administered to Grades 4 and 7 students each year.

This year, Hammond Bay was ranked highest among Nanaimo schools at 144 in B.C. and Bayview came in lowest at 859.

The Fraser Institute maintains that parents show great interest in the annual publication – last year 604,000 individual school reports and school comparisons on B.C. elementary schools were downloaded from the website www.compareschoolrankings.org.

Wendy Simms, with two children aged five months and two years old, said she looked at a newspaper article on the rankings with her husband recently and started comparing the Fraser Institute's assessments of nearby schools before realizing a whole school is rated based on the performance of a portion of that school's students – sometimes part of a class or two.

"I would take it into consideration, but I think I'd probably talk to parents with children in the school," she said.

Availability of French immersion instruction is Nicole Zult's main criteria for choosing a school for her children, aged three-and-a-half and one, although she's also looked at the Fraser Institute report because she believes high-ranked schools indicate a positive environment where the parents spend time helping their children with their academics.

But, Zult added, the rankings are just one of several things she's considering, including proximity, programs offered and the results of discussions with teachers and parents at the school.

Kari-Lyn Owen, who has two children attending Frank J. Ney Elementary School, said her choice of school had nothing to do with the report cards.

She wanted her children to be able to walk to school from home and she liked the school's positive atmosphere.

One of her children has already gone through one round of FSA testing and she said because of the Fraser Institute, the tests are stressful for them.

"The kids get really nervous about being graded, being ranked," she said. "Our job is to support these children and raise them up. Nobody ever wants to be at the bottom."

From a grandparent's perspective, Josie Poustie, who looks after her 14-month-old grand-daughter Scarlett several days a week, said the report cards contain good information for parents and could be used to help schools improve, but it shouldn't be the only thing parents look at when evaluating schools.

"The staff itself makes the school what it is," said Poustie, whose two children attended Fairview Elementary School, where she now takes her granddaughter to attend the StrongStart Early Learning program.

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