The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

February 05, 2010 09:30 ET

Fraser Institute Releases BC Elementary School Report Card Allowing Parents to Compare School Performance

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Feb. 5, 2010) - The Fraser Institute, one of Canada's leading public policy think-tanks, today released its annual report card on BC elementary schools, an invaluable tool for comparing the academic performance of schools across the province.

"The report card is the only easily accessible, objective tool that helps parents assess the performance of their child's school," said Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies.

"In 2009 alone, visitors to the Fraser Institute's website requested nearly 200,000 tables of detailed results for individual BC elementary schools. With approximately 320,000 students attending these schools, that's roughly three requests for every five students. Clearly, parents want to know how their children's school is doing."

The report card allows parents to see if academic performance in a school is improving or declining. It allows parents to compare schools based on factors such as parental income or number of ESL students, and it shows the number of students not meeting provincial standards in reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Data in the Fraser Institute report card is based on the provincewide Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), mandated by the provincial Ministry of Education for students in Grades 4 and 7. In recent years, the BC teachers' union has urged parents to remove their children from this government-required test in a bid to eliminate the data used to compile the school report card.

"If the executives in the teachers' union truly cared about the schoolchildren, they would put their resources into finding ways to improve the schools that the report card shows are struggling; they would lobby for more resources to help students that fail to meet minimum reading standards. Instead, the union is trying to eliminate this invaluable source of information," Cowley said.

The Report Card on British Columbia's Elementary Schools 2010 rates 876 public and private elementary schools across the province based on 10 key indicators using data from provincewide testing administered for the BC Ministry of Education. The report card also includes key demographic information about a school including the percentage of ESL students, percentage of special needs students, and parents' average income. It also shows the percentage of students failing to meet provincial standards in reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as the number of FSA exams that were not written. Results of the report card are available in an interactive and searchable format or as a free PDF at www.fraserinstitute.org.

The detailed school-by-school results of the 2010 report card are also available in Black Press community papers across BC.

A 2008 COMPAS poll of more than 1,000 BC parents found overwhelming majority support for the BC Ministry of Education's provincewide testing policy and for the idea that parents should be able to use the results of those tests to compare schools.

These same report card data provide parents with the information they need to ask the principal at their children's school important questions about a school's performance.

School comparison

Cowley reiterates that the idea of the report card is to encourage schools to improve. Each report card contains enough data to allow for valid comparisons among schools.

For example, Upper Sumas Elementary in Abbotsford and Millstream Elementary School in Victoria share many characteristics.

Both are public schools with 27 Grade 4 students. Millstream has an ESL population of 4.4 per cent; Upper Sumas has an ESL population of 4.6 per cent. Millstream has 5.6 per cent of its students with special needs; Upper Sumas has 5.9 per cent special needs.

While these student characteristics are very similar, Millstream parents have an average annual income of $71,500, while Upper Sumas parents have an average annual income of just $55,100.

"Opponents of school comparison would say it's unfair to compare these schools because Millstream is located in a higher income neighbourhood and that gives its students an academic advantage," Cowley said.

But the data show that's not the case. Upper Sumas scores 7.9 in the report card, having averaged a ranking of 240 out of 795 on the Fraser Institute report card over the past five years; Millstream scores 4.5, having averaged a ranking of 530 out of 795 over the same period—nearly 300 spots behind Upper Sumas. In addition, results from 2009 FSA exams show that only 6.3 per cent of Upper Sumas students did not meet provincial standards while 26.3 per cent of Millstream students did not meet provincial standards.

"Why is the lower income school performing better than the higher income school? What are teachers at Upper Sumas doing and what can other teachers learn from their experience? Those are the questions parents, teachers, and administrators should be asking," Cowley said.

Using the report card to compare a private school in a well-off Lower Mainland neighbourhood to a small, rural public school in northern BC may not be useful, Cowley notes. But comparing schools that have similar characteristics within the same community can be important for parents and educators alike.

For example, Squamish-area public schools Brackendale Elementary and Garibaldi Highlands Elementary have many common characteristics. Each school has about 40 Grade 4 students and an ESL population of less than two per cent. Special needs students account for 6.5 per cent and 7.0 per cent, respectively. Neither school offers French immersion and the average annual income of parents whose children attend either school is $77,400. By all measures, the schools are very similar.

But Garibaldi Highlands is performing much better than Brackendale, having averaged a ranking of 295 out of 795 on the Fraser Institute report card over the past five years while Brackendale has averaged a bottom third ranking of 603 out of 795 over the same period.

"This is a stark contrast in academic achievement and one parents and educators should find disconcerting. What accounts for the disparity between these schools and how should it be addressed? Every school has the responsibility to provide its students, regardless of their personal characteristics or family background, with the academic skills they need to be successful," Cowley said.

"Comparing schools using provincewide FSA test results tells us which schools are most in need of assistance. The Fraser Institute report card is the only source for parents and educators to quickly and easily determine how their local schools are doing compared to the provincial average."

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The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization with locations across North America and partnerships in more than 70 countries. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org.

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