Kent Elementary. Nina Grossman/The Observer

EDITORIAL: No think-tank report cards for the Observer

Fraser Institute’s annual school ranking isn’t a good measure of success, editor Grace Kennedy writes

Of 955 elementary schools in B.C., Kent Elementary is ranked 911. The Agassiz Harrison Observer didn’t bother telling you.

The news came out last Thursday (March 14). The Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank, released its annual report which organizes B.C. schools from best to worst based on the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA).

Black Press Media wrote a general story on the “report card,” as the Fraser Institute calls its lackluster list, and here in Agassiz, we decided to leave it at that.

RELATED: Fraser Institute releases latest B.C. elementary school rankings

Why, you may ask? Simple: because the idea of ranking schools from best to worst based on student marks in a provincial test is not a good one.

Think back to when you were in elementary school, sitting at your desk with only a pencil in front of you. Your teacher is handing out crisp white booklets, and reminding you not to talk for the next hour as you complete the test. You’re told to read everything on the page, complete every question and give clear answers.

If you’re in Grade 4, this will be your first time completing an FSA. Your hands might be sweaty; you might forget how to figure out a mathematical pattern; you might read an informational story about polar bears and be asked why the author decided to write from the perspective of the bear. I don’t know, why would he write as a bear? Maybe he just wanted to.

The provincial government collects FSA results to get a snapshot of how students across the province are doing from year to year. The Fraser Institute uses that data to pit schools against each other.

The top 20 schools in the province all achieved an average score of 560 or better in reading, writing and numeracy for grades four and seven. Most schools had full participation from all students for the optional provincial tests (only one school had more than 10 per cent of students opt out).

The bottom 20 schools, on the other hand, never achieved a score better than 533. Some schools only had 10 per cent of students opt out of the test, but most had a quarter or more. (Maple Ridge’s Alexander Robinson Elementary saw 79.2 per cent of students not write the tests.)

RELATED: The debate over how to teach math in B.C.

There are other differences too. Of the top 20 schools, 15 were classified as independent schools. Most had a very low proportion of students with special needs (less than 10 per cent). In the bottom 20, nearly all had more than 10 per cent of students with special needs. Only one, Nak’albun Elementary School in Fort St. James, was an idependent school.

Some differences aren’t just about the schools, but the social context those schools exist in. After all, the top 20 schools are primarily located in Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver, while the bottom 20 are primarily in B.C.’s north, First Nations communities or the rural areas of Vancouver Island.

Money and services make it easier for kids to succeed at school.

A tool called the Early Development Instrument, put together by UBC, looks at exactly where kindergartners are most vulnerable in each community across the province. In Agassiz and Harrison, 23 per cent of young kids struggle in being physically ready for school: Can they hold a pencil and are they on time for school? Around 16 per cent struggle math, reading and memory skills.

RELATED: Early childhood literacy easy as 1, 2, 3

This is echoed in the Fraser Institute rankings for both Harrison Hot Springs Elementary (481 of 955) and Kent Elementary (911 of 955). For both schools, in both Grade 4 and 7, the average numeracy score was the lower than reading or writing.

But what does it really mean to us? Yes, it’s good to know where trends are going and where the gaps are. But parents know how schools are doing because how their kids are succeeding in their personal goals — not because the Fraser Institute decided it was the best, or worst, in the province.

So read the Fraser Institute report card if you like and judge your local schools accordingly. But you won’t find that story written by the Agassiz Harrison Observer.

If we want to find out how our schools are doing, we’ll spend some time talking to teachers, students, staff and parents, and share those insights with you. We won’t regurgitate a think-tank press release.

-Editor, Grace Kennedy

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