The outgoing president of the B.C. School Trustees Association says a new report that appears to give Summerland schools more than a passing grade offers an incomplete picture.
Connie Denesiuk, a Summerland resident with long-standing ties in the education, said the Fraser Institute’s 2011 Report on Elementary Schools does not tell the whole story in offering a “very simplistic way” of measuring the quality of schools.
According to the survey, Trout Creek Elementary reached the highest ranking among schools in the Okanagan Skaha School District at 237.
Giant’s Head Elementary finished at 554.
The survey tracked 875 private and public elementary schools.
Holy Cross Elementary, an independent Catholic school, reached a ranking of 18.
West Bench Elementary showed up at 857.
Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies, said the overall performance of area schools “according to their measures “ is a cause for concern, especially at Penticton’s Carmi Elementary in Penticton which he said has shown a “statistically significant” decline over the last five years of data.
“There seems to be a malaise,” he said, adding that while there may not be a problem, he recommends erring on the side of caution and reviewing school and district improvement plans. “I’d rather make a mistake by overstating the problem.”
Cowley said it is a blend of things that lead to independent schools consistently being ranked higher than public schools in the report, starting with the fact families choose the school, indicating a level of involvement, both on the parent and school sides. Independent schools like Holy Cross have the capacity to define the parents’ role and responsibility for their child’s education, while parents are able to easily choose another if the school doesn’t live up to its promise.
The results rely on the provincial Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests conducted last February. While the test measures student skills in reading comprehension, writing, and numeracy of Grade 4 students, critics have accused it of being biased toward private schools and using flawed methodology.
Superintendent Wendy Hyer disagrees with Coley, in noting that local schools are doing well and are constantly working to improve, using a variety of assessments to determine the educational needs of the students, rather than just the broadly based FSA tests.
Like others, she does not approve of the way the private think-tank uses the data from the annual assessments, which are intended to provide a broad “snapshot” of education in the province overall, not rank individual schools or students.
“I am not a fan of the Fraser Institute Report Card,” said Hyer, noting that it has a very narrow focus of what makes a good school. “There is more to what makes a good school.”
Denesiuk echoed this criticism.
If parents want to measure the quality of a school, they should learn as much as possible about that school, its strengths, its weaknesses, and what it plans to do about that, said Denesiuk.
In related news, Denesiuk confirmed that she is stepping down as president of the B.C. School Trustee Association in April after holding the position for three years.
Denesiuk said she had always planned to hold the position for one term. Three years, she said, is long enough to bring out some change, without being too comfortable.
“Three was the right amount of time,” she said.
— With files from Steve Kidd, Penticton Western News