A popular resource for parents and a source of ongoing controversy for teachers is being provided by Black Press newspapers this week.
The annual Fraser Institute rankings for elementary schools, based on the foundation skills assessment tests written annually by Grade 4 and 7 students, are being included for each local school district served by Black Press publications across B.C. The province-wide package of scores and rankings is also being released Friday at the institute’s website, fraserinstitute.org.
Rick O’Connor, chief operating officer of Black Press, said publication of the school report cards is not an endorsement.
“There is a lot of interest in these rankings, and they generate a great deal of debate,” O’Connor said. “We want that debate to be in our newspapers and on our websites.”
Peter Cowley, director of school performance studies for the Fraser Institute, said interest in the rankings is significant. Last year there were 200,000 individual tables looked up on the website for B.C. elementary schools alone, for information on schools with total enrolment of 315,000 students.
The tables distributed this week include the ranking for each school and scores in reading, writing and numeracy produced using the tests. Each table includes results for the past five years, to show whether test results are improving or declining from year to year.
The rankings and the tests have been a target of protest by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation since they began. BCTF president Irene Lanzinger says it is unfair and misleading to base the school ranking on the performance of students on a single test.
A school may be offering students a high-quality education, but show a low mark in the rankings because of a larger number of special needs students in Grade 4 or 7 that particular year, Lanzinger said.
The BCTF fought for and won the right to send letters home with students arguing that parents should have their children excused from the tests, and has run advertising campaigns questioning their validity. On its website is a video warning that the tests are bad for education because teachers are forced to focus on material covered by the tests.
“By treating our students as data mines first and learners second, we narrow the curriculum and strip kids of the diverse education they deserve,” the video says.
Cowley rejected the argument that the tests are just a snapshot of school performance. The five-year results are buttressed with indicators including average family income as well as the percentage of special needs, French immersion and English-as-a-second-language students in each school.
That context and the five-year trend allows parents to see that some schools are doing better than others, even with the same advantages and disadvantages, Cowley said. And that suggests some teachers are doing a better job than others.
“That’s a message that the teachers’ unions will simply not accept,” he said.