Some readers may have seen a recent front page article in the North Shore News about the annual Fraser Institute Elementary Report Card School Rankings, released in early May. Ecole Cedardale, one of our two French Immersion schools, was the only public school in the province to score top marks. While we are pleased with the result, the rankings provide only a small sliver of information about what our community values in schools.
The Fraser Institute has been compiling data from Grade 4 and Grade 7 Foundation Skills Assessment to produce reports on student achievement, in an effort to help parents decide which schools perform best academically. They produce a similar report for high schools, based on the previous year’s average examination results in Grade 10, 11 and 12 courses that include a mandatory provincial exam.
These reports reflect an old view of education: that we should compare schools and compete with one another. Our philosophy and success is based on a new model – that our schools are all connected, and should work together to improve. Collaboration — within districts, among districts and around the globe — is the key to building a stronger education system. Student learning is not about labeling winners and losers.
We appreciate the dilemma that a parent new to education — or new to a region — may be facing when they choose a school for their child, and know that it’s tempting to rely on a number in a complex world with so many choices. But educators know that using test scores to measure school performance is deeply flawed. It may provide some interesting insight at the student level, but beyond that, the measures tell us very little. It is just silly, for example, to look at one year’s scores and make broad generalizations about a school’s achievement. Cohorts of students are different each year – what is interesting to me is individual students’ progress over time.
If there was one piece of valuable information I might glean from the data, it is the small gap between our highest and lowest performing schools. While individual school performance at West Vancouver Schools goes up and down year over year, the range in results in our district is the narrowest in Metro Vancouver. This year, for example, there is only a 2.4 point gap between the highest and lowest test scores. Given the consistency in data between our schools, and over time, the message that emerges is that all West Vancouver School District schools are consistently strong achieving schools on tests in core skill areas.
So how does this link to selecting a school? The best choice for most families is the neighbourhood school. That is the choice my wife and I have made for our four kids. We know that the community connections and friends in the neighbourhood are good reasons to make a local school choice. That said, I know there is increasing choice for families. As you look at schools – whether for elementary or high school, please don’t decide based on a test score.
Instead, we ask parents to visit our schools, meet with teachers, administrators and students, learn about the school’s unique programs and opportunities, and make a decision based on the right fit for their child. In West Vancouver, we offer a broad range of programs, and with strong academic performance well in hand from one end of the district to the other, we successfully focus on providing a broad range of educational and programming options that provide a richly woven learning experience for every child.
Superintendent of Schools