To the Editor,
The beginning of this school year has many questions regarding the state of public education to it.
Some of this has been generated by increasing questions about the effectiveness of public education. Increasingly, the mantra of standards and accountability are being used.
In British Columbia during the last decade, there has been growing awareness of school rankings both at the elementary and secondary level based on the Foundation Skills Assessment. These rankings are provided via the Fraser Institute, a think tank that is based in the Fraser Valley.
The rankings are generally provided wide coverage by the media each spring. Following the release of the rankings to the media there are intense debates from both sides of the issue.
Unfortunately, the rankings themselves are flawed for a variety of reasons. This has rarely been a topic for discussion and yet it should be a basis for debate.
First, parents assume the school rankings are based entirely on test scores. This is not the case at the elementary level. The FSAs make up only 45 percent of an elementary schools rank. The school’s rank is a composite of tests and other indicators.
Students from lower socio-economic areas are penalized.
Part of the school ranking is wrapped up in the number of students who were absent or choose not to write the test. Absenteeism is higher in lower socio-economic groups and in some areas greater numbers of parents prefer not to have their children write the tests.
For high school there is similar bias in the standardized assessments.
Lower socio-economic schools have lower advancement rates. There is a solid body of research indicating that students dropping out of schools are not solely based on their experiences in school but that there are other triggering events – such as conditions at home – that impact students’ decision to leave school.
The government has always wanted some report card on student achievement in the province. The taxpayers of the province deserve some information on how their money is spent. Unfortunately, the Fraser Institute draws unfair comparisons.
There are other examples of school rankings which are more effective by comparing similar schools, rather than schools with greater differences.
Each year Maclean’s ranks universities across the country. However, rather than compare a mid-sized university like the University of Victoria to the University of British Columbia the magazine compares other mid-sized comprehensive universities. Vancouver Island University should not be compared with institutions such as UVic for similar reasons. Despite the rhetoric and genuflecting by many who see the sky falling, we should acknowledge a recent OECD study ranking the public education system in Canada among the 10 best in the world.
Keep in mind the nations that finished ahead of Canada all possess a national education office, a much smaller geography, and nowhere near the racial or linguistic diversity of Canada.
We should not be standing pat with these results.Rather, we should strive to be best. But do so with more accurate results and not penalize schools for ‘failing’ to meet the Ministry of Education objectives. These schools need support, not scoldings.