Report gets failing grade

AT RANDOM: Education reporter, Katherine Mortimer, questions validity of Fraser Institute report

B.C. teachers may not be issuing report cards during the current job action, but just as spring follows winter, we can always count on the Fraser Institute to tell us how our schools are performing.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation and, closer to home, the Vernon Teachers’ Association, has been critical of the annual Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools, which bases its findings on data from the annual Foundation Skills Assessment tests administered to students in Grades 4 and 7.

Like the teachers’ unions, I fail to see how we can determine how good or lousy a school is based on a test given to kids in two grades on a few subjects.

And if a teacher moves from a top-ranked school to one that is ranked low on the scale, does that mean he or she is a sub-par teacher? It doesn’t make any sense.

The school I attended in Vancouver from Grade 8 to 12 is consistently ranked by the Fraser Institute in the top-10 of all B.C. schools. But if you look at my marks in my old nemesis, algebra, I received a top mark in Grade 10 and by Grade 11 I was failing the subject, not once but twice. So does this mean my great school was now a crappy school? Fortunately, I never did an FSA test, so who knows? The Ministry of Education didn’t introduce the tests until 2000.

According to Peter Cowley, director of school performance studies for the Fraser Institute, “the report card is the only objective, reliable tool that parents have to compare the academic performance of their child’s school over time and to that of other schools in their community.

“The Fraser Institute’s school report card is the only source for long-term, provincewide school performance data that helps parents monitor the performance of their child’s school and help educators identify key areas for improvement in their classrooms.”

The arrogance of that statement beggars belief, so forgive me for not feeling that without the guidance offered by a right-wing think tank, I’m somehow being kept in the dark about my child’s academic performance.

Sorry, but if I want to find out how my child is doing, I’ll talk to her teacher. And I’ll likely find out that if you were to assess a dozen kids out of her class, you’ll find that all of them are performing at different levels.

Had the FSA been in place when I was in Grade 4, I guarantee I probably would have failed miserably, as it was one of my worst school years ever, where I was bullied by my teacher throughout the year, and longed for the end of June.

I wonder what the publication of a report such as this does for teachers’ morale? In the three years since my daughter started school, I’ve been astonished at the dedication, caring, creativity and skills that I’ve seen in her teachers, not to mention all of the support staff needed to keep a school running smoothly.

By all means, teachers should be testing students to see if they comprehend the material. But a test that doesn’t go towards a child’s mark, that costs time and money to administer — particularly in an era of school districts having to work with fewer dollars than ever before — seems foolish at best, and dangerous at worst.

The results of the FSA test seem to be a way for some schools to be able to say, “Wow, look at how good we are,” and others, with equally good teachers, and equally bright students, to have their self-esteem squashed simply because the Fraser Institute tells us so.

Last year, Bountiful elementary-secondary school — home of B.C’s infamous fundamentalist Mormon polygamous community — earned top-ranking on the list, with a score of 10 out of 10.

This is a school that is not able to issue official graduation diplomas to its Grade 12 students because of concerns about its curriculum.

If that doesn’t call into question the validity of the Fraser Institute report, I don’t know what does.

– Katherine Mortimer is the lifestyles and seniors editor and education reporter at The Morning Star. lifestyles@vernonmorningstar.com