Expert advice on parents' search for the "best school"
Considering all school rankings with the proper level of skepticism
We want parents and families to view our rankings in the proper context, and use them as only a small part of a much larger process focused on finding the right school. Here, we offer a full exploration of how to think about rankings, and what you should be focusing on instead. We recommend that you read this thoroughly before consulting our rankings.
- Be very skeptical about rankings
- There is no such thing as the best school for your child
- Finding the right school takes time and effort
Be skeptical about all school rankings
Rankings from other sources, who may provide lists of "best high schools for sports," for example, are always presented from a biased perspective.
School rankings provided annually by the Fraser Institute are based in seven indicators, all of which derive from provincial testing. The standardized tests are administered by provinces to assess teaching against the provincial curricular outcomes. As such, these can also be used to compare schools in order to determine if the same material is being taught effectively across the province. To that very limited end, these school rankings provide a useful function for parents.
One typical standardized testing offered is administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) in Ontario. These tests assess student literacy (reading and writing) and math skills at three points in their K-12 education. Schools' rankings on these tests can change over time, so the school you choose may have its ranking adjusted during your children's tenure at the school. It's critical to remember that standardized testing was never intended to be used in ranking or comparison.
Even rankings provided by Our Kids focus on specific aspects of a school. Information is reported by the schools themselves, and is not verified by Our Kids. Throughout our pages we disclaim any value to focusing on rankings.
Ranking a school is like asking a parent to rank their children. Every child has unique gifts.
- Tam Matthews, onetime headmaster of Ashbury College
, currently with West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver.
Most importantly, standardized testing does not provide some of the most important information parents need: the culture of the school, the environment it facilitates both inside and outside of the classroom, and the richness of the experience of individual students.
There are some important caveats, too, to standardized testing. For example, when parents think of literacy, they think of higher orders of comprehension—it’s about symbol recognition or knowing what words mean, it’s comprehension, the processing of ideas found on the page, engagement with a text, and reasoning. Rankings aren’t reflective of that.
I don't think school rankings are useful. I see so many errors and omissions (in the rankings). How can you compare a special needs school with Upper Canada College! It's comparing apples with oranges. [Even schools that appear to be similar need to be fully investigated by parents] because of subtle differences of culture.
- Susan Hazell, past executive director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools.
Finding the best fit for your child
Some parents will still insist that they want schools ranked because they want "only the best for my child." But using rankings means that you are still relying on outside sources to tell you what's best. The right expert(s) on what's best for your child are you (the parents) and your child(ren). Figuring out what is best is a process that takes time, energy and commitment.
It depends on the child and the school parents have in mind. Some schools are geared toward students who show an exceptional talent or skill in a particular area. Other schools are designed to help kids develop those particular skills. The beauty of independent schools is that they allow families to find a program that's a really good match for the individual child.
Finding the right school takes dedication and effort
Judy Winberg is an educational consultant who has consulted closely with many families since 2001, helping them connect with private schools. As she puts it, "choosing the right school is not simple."
The school search is a long process involving understanding all your options
, comparing different schools
, learning about each school in-depth through a school tour
, an open-house
or meeting them at a private school expo
, then making a decision you are certain about. As Winberg says, "In the end, parents need to listen to their kids and trust their own gut instincts. Can you envision your child being successful at this school? Does it feel right? If so, go for it."
But getting to the point where you feel certain, should take months, even years, of research and consideration.