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North Coast schools get a failing grade in Fraser Institute report

Ranking doesn’t reflect areas where students are strong, says School District 52 superintendent
Prince Rupert public schools received a failing grade from the Fraser Institute’s annual report. (Pixabay photo)

Once again, elementary schools in Prince Rupert rank below the provincial average.

The Fraser Institute released its annual Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools last Friday, April 10. The conservative Vancouver-based think-tank derives it’s score from the province’s Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) exams and gave all public schools in School District 52 a failing grade.

Administered province-wide to Grade four and seven students, the exams are designed to assess students’ skills in reading, writing, and numeracy in relation to a standard provincial baseline. The Fraser Institute’s analysis uses this data to give each school a rating out of ten.

The average for schools in the district was 3.8 — 2.2 points below the provincial average. Annunciation School ranked the highest at 7.2, while the Coast Tsimshian Academy in Lax Kw’alaams ranked lowest at 0.0.

That’s a grade Kelly Rambeau, the principal of the Coast Tsimshian Academy, considers outrageous.

“Ranking our school on the basis of one test given to five students, while ignoring the innovative work we’re doing here. I can’t believe it,” he said.

The Coast Tsimshian Academy opened its doors in September and is at the forefront of developing culturally and geographically relevant academic curriculum — an educational approach taken by the entire school district.

READ MORE: 16 of 20 fastest improving B.C. schools are public, Fraser Institute

“Our teachers and administrators are constantly trying to improve learning for students using a strength-based approach where they teach the whole child —social, emotional, and academic,” said Ken Minette, the superintendent of SD52 in an emailed response. “The FSA assesses a fairly narrow band of the curriculum, and does not reflect the many areas our students are strong at, including local aspects, like cultural awareness and language. It does not support the tenets of new curriculum that promote open-ended, engaging, personalised learning focusing on deeper thinking so the students of tomorrow are more collaborative, more inquisitive and better critical thinkers.”

Minette considers the FSA one tool among many to help teachers better support their students — not a guide to use in evaluating a school’s performance. Using it that way is problematic, as it sends a misguided message about the quality of education offered by the district’s schools.

Enhanced School District Report for SD052 by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson on Scribd

But for Peter Cowley, the Director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute and co-author of the report, that doesn’t matter. While acknowledging that the FSA is narrow and fails to reflect the breadth of learning opportunities offered by schools, he maintains that teachers have a responsibility to help their students do well on the tests.

“Public schools are meant to equip students with basic skills and knowledge like those reflected on a standardised test. Their purpose is to determine if students have met provincial expectations —and if they haven’t, consistently over time, it means the teachers aren’t doing their job.”

For him, the Fraser Institute’s ranking is meant to help parents decide where to send their child to school — if possible — and encourage cross-district dialogue between teachers and administrators.

“I’ll challenge a school that says it can’t get any better to get in touch with other similar schools that are doing better. Ask other teachers, principals, administrators what they’re doing that’s working.”

Yet Minette maintains that the FSA fails to accurately reflect the educational opportunities offered by schools in SD52 as it relies exclusively on a narrow band of academic skills, thus failing to account for opportunities offered to students in the areas of technology, careers, language, culture, fine arts and applied skills in school.

“They do not represent the quality of our school in terms of how inviting, caring, and proactive they are in meeting a student’s holistic needs,” he said.

Overall, Prince Rupert’s schools have increased their ranking over the past five years, except Annunciation School and Pineridge Elementary. Both have seen their scores drop during that period.

READ MORE: Prince Rupert-area schools ranked low in assessment

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