Sixteen out of the 20 elementary schools in Ontario that showed the fastest academic improvement over the past five years had families with incomes below the provincial average, according to the 2012 Fraser Institute report card.
Out of the 2,695 public and publicly-funded Catholic schools included in the report card, 565 schools (or 21 per cent) fell below the average family income and yet achieved above-average academic marks.
“We’ve seen a pattern every year of schools that have achieved high marks despite being from a lower family income,” says Michael Thomas, associate director at the Fraser Institute’s School of Performance Studies, in an interview with Our Kids. “I think that’s very significant because it shows that students at schools from all backgrounds can achieve success despite socio-economic barriers.”
At one school, 36.6 per cent of the students have special needs, and at another, 32.7 per cent are ESL students.
What’s more, seven out of the 19 schools that tied for first with a 10 out of 10 rating in the provincewide rankings have parental incomes lower than the provincial average.
Click here to read the results from the Fraser Institute’s 2012 report card on Ontario’s elementary schools.
The Report Card on Ontario’s Elementary Schools 2012, released today, rated 2,695 public, Catholic, and francophone elementary schools across Ontario. The rankings measure a school’s performance based on data from the annual provincewide tests of reading, writing, and mathematics from the Ontario government’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).
In addition, the report card found that there has been a “continuing pattern of slow improvement over the last five years,” including Grade 3 writing and Grade 6 reading and writing, according to Thomas.
The total number of EQAO tests in reading, writing and math at both grades that have fallen below standard has dropped every year for the last five years, he adds. This year 29.5 per cent of EQAO tests were below standard, an improvement from five years ago when 34 per cent of the written elementary tests were below standard.
“That’s encouraging, but still with almost 30 per cent of tests below standard, there’s lots of room for improvement,” Thomas says.
Ontario Private School Rankings
No private or independent schools were included in the report card this year. Private schools are not required to take the EQAO tests in Ontario that are used to measure their academic performance, Thomas notes as a reason behind their absence in the rankings. “Each school might have a different reason why they didn’t participate,” he says. “Some may participate but not have enough students required for the information to be public, or may have chosen to keep the information confidential because it’s not a requirement that they release those results.”
Compare and rank the top Ontario private schools.
A Useful Tool for Parents and Schools, or Misuse of Data?
Despite the popularity of Fraser Institute’s report cards, some believe they’re not an accurate or effective measure of a school’s performance.
“I think ranking schools is, at best, fatuous and, at worst, harmful,” says Charles Ungerleider, professor of the Sociology of Education at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Educational Studies. “I am concerned about comparing schools with one another. The practical limits to improving student learning outcomes includes recognition that in Canada approximately 70 per cent of the variation in student learning is not attributable to school factors, but to student, family, and community characteristics.”
(Click here to read Charles Ungerleider’s article.)
The Alberta government plans to launch a review of standardized tests in the spring. Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk reportedly said that he may try to stop the use of Alberta’s standardized tests by third parties like the Fraser Institute because they are a misuse of data, reported The Calgary Herald.
“The problem with Fraser is you take one criteria and extrapolate that into an overarching conclusion of how well a certain school is performing,” Lukaszuk said in an interview with The Calgary Herald. “But that assessment—in many if not all cases—could be very inaccurate unless you know the underlying circumstances of a particular school.”
(Click here for more about the debate over the value of school rankings.)
While the report card measures academic performance and highlights what schools did well or worse academically, it does not make recommendations on what schools should do to improve.
“Our influence is very strong among parents and getting parents involved and asking why our school is not doing better and sometimes demanding results,” Thomas says, noting that parents often tell him how difficult it is to get information on schools’ performance. “We use standardized testing, an objective measure of achievement. And whether they’re evaluating a school or selecting a school, it allows parents to have a starting point from which to make decisions.”
The Fraser Institute itself acknowledges that the report cards can help give parents and schools a picture of how schools improved or declined over time compared to other schools, but it is not the whole picture. Thomas says it can help parents evaluate their school or help them select a school for their child. He hopes that using the report card, parents can demand better results from schools, and parents, administrators and schools can start a dialogue to learn what needs improvement and share best practices from the top performers.
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