Fraser Institute school rankings: Necessary, evil, or both?

Central Okanagan superintendent, teacher's union say they put no stock in annual school rankings. Fraser Institute says parents deserve more

The Fraser Institute says this is one report card that most teachers hate.

The chair of the Central Okanagan School Board says the district is fundamentally opposed to the Fraser Institute’s ranking of schools based upon one standardized test.

And the head of the Central Okanagan Teacher’s union did not want to speak about the rankings at all.

The Fraser Institute released its annual report card on elementary and middle schools this week, ranking schools across the province from one to 978, using results from a test that kids take in Grade 4 and Grade 7 called the Foundation Skills Test that measures reading, writing and math skills.

“Each year we get the data from the Ministry of Education, analyze it and see what percentage did not meet provincial expectations,” said Peter Cowley, the Fraser Institute’s director of school performance studies. “We bring all the indicators together and answer one important question: In general, how is the school doing compared to other schools?”

Cowley was one of three people to design the Fraser Institute’s school ranking procedure and began to investigate how to rank schools when his daughter was in Grade 11 and he wanted information as a parent.

First published in 1998 and now in four provinces, the Fraser Institute releases a ranking on elementary and middle schools as well as a separate ranking on secondary schools.

But while Cowley says he is doing it as a tool for parents, the rankings are not popular with teachers or with educators, who say to base school performance on one test is too small of a sample.

“We are fundamentally opposed to the use of a single data set as way to place schools in rank order,” said superintendent Hugh Gloster. “We have students who are being fully supported and highly successful in all of our schools. We have a variety of different measures we use to measure if students have acquired the fundamental skills to be successful.”

Gloster said schools in the Central Okanagan put together a school improvement plan each year with input from teachers and parents and adds it’s a concern that some parents are using the Fraser Institute rankings to choose a school.

“Part of the problem is this has become highly politicized,” said Gloster. “Because of the Fraser Institute using the Foundation Skills Test to rank schools we have a lot of parents that are withholding their children and not having them write it. So as a data set its validity in terms of being reliable is called into question.”

Certainly the teacher’s union is against it. When contacted by phone by the Kelowna Capital News, Central Okanagan Teacher’s Union president Susan Bauhart made a terse comment before hanging up.

“We don’t take a lot of stock in the rankings,” she said. “It’s not that we’re afraid of assessments but this is really old news and our position has never changed.”

At the Fraser Institute, Peter Cowley says if schools and school districts have a better way of ranking schools they should be providing that information to parents but he says there has never been a will to make school performance public.

He says the Fraser Institute puts together its rankings because no one else is doing it.

“This is serious stuff even if it is a small but extremely important fraction of what is going on in schools,” said Cowley. “I always find it ironic if a union official or superintendent accuses the report cards of being too narrow of a focus. So I say let’s get together and design a more inclusive report card. All of these things can be measured and reported but there is no will. As far as I can tell the overwhelming reason as to why there aren’t more measures is simply because the teacher’s union doesn’t want people to be able to compare schools on anything except maybe the basketball scores.”

If you would like to see the Fraser Institute’s school rankings, they are available at www.compareschoolrankings.org