Despite the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district’s aversion to the Fraser Institute’s rankings, one of its high schools is being lauded by the right-wing think tank.
According to the institute’s latest secondary school report card, Nanaimo District Secondary School is trending up, among 30 high schools in the province showing improvement over the past five years.
The average exam mark was 68.4 in 2009 and was 70.2 per cent in 2013. Nanaimo District’s graduation rate has always been more than the 92-per cent mark the past five years but it hit close to 98 per cent in 2013.
The Fraser Institute gave it an overall rating of 6.2 out of 10 in the report, which is up from the 5.3 given in 2010.
Peter Cowley, institute director of school performance studies and co-author of the report, said the the Nanaimo high school showed “statistically significant improvement” and made the list after analysis of a statistic underlying the overall rating out of 10. He said it is used to calculate, in a statistically valid way, the probability that numbers from the past five years represent actual change, as opposed to random movement.
“Essentially, we have to be 90-per cent certain that this set of five data points will reflect a real change, something that’s actually happening, as opposed to just random movement and that’s the case when speaking about Nanaimo District,” said Cowley.
“What does this mean [from] an educational point of view? It simply means that somehow or other, the school has found a way, or circumstances have changed such that the kids are now achieving at a higher level than they were five years ago,” Cowley said.
He said that all the institute can do is determine whether there appears to be change – it can’t say why, as that isn’t a parameter of the report.
“But we see it as being extraordinarily important that we identify these improvers across the province and other people, who should have a big interest in this, ask the question, ‘How did you do that?’ and ‘Can what you do be applied in my school where we haven’t yet been successful in improving our results?’ That’s the whole key,” Cowley said.
School administration and trustees did not return calls, but in an e-mail, spokeswoman Donna Reimer reaffirmed that the school district is against the report, which it says is not relevant to the work to improve student learning because of its “narrow focus.”
“The report does not give parents an accurate reading of what a school community will bring to their child and how their child will benefit from that school,” she said. “It doesn’t tell you whether the school community is a healthy, vibrant one in which a student can succeed.”
Unlike the report card for elementary schools, the secondary school report is not compiled with numbers from the Foundation Skills Assessment tests but rather subject-specific courses in Grades 10, 11 and 12 that have a provincial exam.