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Province refuses to rank schools

Comparisons help no one, education minister argues

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Pit high school against high school in academic achievement, for public consumption?

Not in Manitoba, says Education Minister Nancy Allan.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and Frontier Centre for Public Policy released a report Monday saying "Manitoba operates in the dark ages" compared to other western provinces in its lack of information on how students perform academically at individual high schools.

B.C. makes public the five-year comparisons of academic achievement, graduation rates and dropout rates for each school in the province. Alberta is close behind, providing exam scores for every school, says the report.

Saskatchewan provides data upon request, the two organizations said.

But not so in Manitoba. "Manitoba has the most limited access to valuable school-level data. The department neither provides much school-level data publicly, nor were they willing to provide many of the data points that are widely available in other Canadian provinces.

"The province does provide school-level grade-by-grade enrolment data publicly.

"Manitoba does not, however, provide any school-level results of provincial assessments, number of graduating students at schools, attendance, or track participation in post-secondary study," said the report.

Don't hold your breath, said Allan.

"We don't really have a comfort level with this model of pitting one school against another," she said. "One school ends up at the bottom, and it could be a great school.

"It can be demoralizing for everyone involved," Allan said. "I like to think all of our schools are fantastic schools."

Allan said the department website contains provincewide information on graduation rates and on overall academic performance.

Ranking schools serves only those with a political agenda who want to attack teachers and public schools, said Pat Isaak, president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society.

"They don't serve any useful purpose. There's nothing to be gained by ranking schools," Isaak said. "The money spent producing those rankings could be going into the classroom.

"Schools report to parents and students," Isaak pointed out.

It is nothing new Manitoba does not compile and release these data.

Under the former Filmon government, school-by-school results in grades 3 and 12 math and language-arts exams were made public in the late 1990s and there were plans to expand to more provincewide testing in more subjects and in more grades.

But the NDP scrapped the Grade 3 tests and ended the practice of publishing school-by-school Grade 12 scores.

Several years ago, the right-wing Fraser Institute think-tank considered compiling a ranking of Manitoba high schools from best to worst -- as it had done in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. -- but was unable to because of the lack of school-by-school results in Grade 12 subjects.

Manitoba School Boards Association executive director Carolyn Duhamel said she hasn't heard any demand for such detailed information here.

"By and large, the school boards have supported the provincial direction here," Duhamel said. "The province does not post a ranking. There's not really consensus whether that's useful or not."

On the other hand, some Manitoba parents say that with anecdotal rankings of schools already flying between parents, hard data might help focus the discussion on a school's health.

"Information is always good. It helps with making decisions," said Janice Morgan, a parent of two children in the Pembina Trails School Division.

"Sometimes, people worry more than they need to... and sometimes, people don't know when they should be worried. I would have to agree that releasing some information would help to identify issues."

The report's authors say the more information students have about a school's performance, the better they perform academically. The report says "schools became better regardless of where they were, the types of families they served or the resources each school had. Rich suburbs or poor inner-city neighbourhoods, remote rural schools or schools serving thousands of kids, they all got better the more they told the public about what was going on."

The report can be found at: http://www.aims.ca/aimslibrary.asp?ft=1&id=2836

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Their report card

Here's a quick look at the report's other findings:

"ö British Columbia shares the most school data of the four western provinces, thanks to a 51-page document for each B.C. school that reports enrolment, school demographics, student and parent satisfaction survey results. If only the province also released a user-friendly school-to-school comparison tool, the report said.

"ö Alberta releases enough information to almost match B.C.'s openness, with school-by-school exam scores, enrolment and teacher grades all posted on a provincial website. But while B.C. publishes per-school graduation and drop-out numbers, Alberta will only go as low as the district level for that data.

"ö Though Saskatchewan doesn't put much school-level data online, the provincial Ministry of Education is accommodating to requests for that info, the report's authors found. Plus, it does offer school-level info on provincial exam numbers, which puts it ahead of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2010 A3

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