(It should be noted that contrary to the assertion expressed in this article, AIMS did not use the 1996 NSAT scores for grade 12 as a comparator in the study. Academic Achievement in high school was assessed using the 2001 Grade 12 provincial exam scores as supplied by the NS Department of Education. There were no provincial tests from 1997 to 2000.)
By David P. McClelland
AS PRINCIPAL of Oxford Regional Schools, I agree with the authors of Grading Our Future: Report Card on Atlantic Canadian High Schools that I and my professional colleagues are accountable for the program and overall school experience we provide students from Grade Primary to Grade 12. I applaud their stated desire to look beyond bare outcomes and consider the range of abilities and advantages/disadvantages brought to the process by individual students and individual classes from year to year.
I also agree that sincere people trying to come to grips with these issues need to resist defensive posturing when our efforts are less successful than we would have wished.
Beyond these stated agreements, surely there is another one that is fundamental when dealing with any issue so closely related to children – that being, “first do no harm.”
Students currently attending our school have heard the news which calls their school the worst in the province and they now wonder if their good marks are legitimate, or is their 90 per cent like a 60 per cent in another school. Surely, post-secondary institutions will be well-equipped to judge this study as the failure it has universally been judged to be; however, real damage has been done to many of the young people about which the authors should be concerned beyond value to the taxpayers – their parents.
Oxford Regional does not wish to argue for relative change in position on the authors’ list. Many schools must be upset by the presumptuous rankings and the accompanying comments. However, being judged to be the lowest in the heap, perhaps we may be permitted to point out some obvious shortcomings highlighting the lack of credibility which should be given this report relative to Oxford Regional as a case in point.
Oxford was described as a loss of opportunity based upon two observations.
First, in 1996 our Grade 9 NSAT results were the best in the province, an apparent indication of excellent teaching by our feeder schoolteachers. These results were then compared with our 1996 NSAT results for Grade 12 students, who did not score nearly as well. Therefore, it was concluded that potential was not met. Obviously, any logical person can see several problems with this procedure.
Each graduation class has its own persona related to individuals. It certainly is evident when class numbers are relatively small. The only valid way to judge the excellent Grade 9 results from 1996 would be to evaluate how that particular class did relative to itself in 1999 when they graduated. The graduates of 1996 should have been viewed relative to their 1993 NSAT Grade 9 results.
NSAT results are a poor mechanism upon which to make judgments in the first place, since they tended to reflect intellectual ability and motivation more accurately than they captured the result of program delivery. (For example, students wrote the science section of the NSAT whether they took high school science or not.)
Perhaps the greatest flaw in this study relative to Oxford Regional lies in the fact that the feeder system which apparently did such a great job preparing those Grade 9 students was, in fact, Oxford Regional itself. We have no feeder system other than our own elementary and junior high classes. In fact, because we are a small school, our teachers teach at various grade levels. At present, there are only two high school teachers who do not teach related subjects at the junior high level. Each was chosen for their expertise related to their high school assignment, and we are fortunate to have them prepare their students for such subjects in junior high.
The second observation which negatively influenced how 1996 Grade 12 NSAT results were interpreted at Oxford Regional was the relative economic standing of our community and the families therein.
It is true that the Oxford catchment area in 1996 (as well as today) had among its community members a few people with great wealth.
However, the large majority of students at Oxford Regional come from homes of modest means where parents must work hard, often at several jobs, to provide for their children. The employment rate is high because they are willing to do that.
To suggest that Oxford Regional’s results should be adjusted downward because of the relative affluence to be found in the majority of their homes is insensitive in the extreme and inaccurate.
In closing, I wish to repeat the judgment of the Department of Education and others knowledgeable in the field of statistical studies, that Report Card on Atlantic Canadian High Schools is too flawed to be given serious consideration by anyone.
Statements made regarding Oxford Regional are outrageous in the extreme, particularly when they are made by individuals who have never been in the building.
My hope is that parents reading this will reassure their children that they go to a good school, that their good marks are legitimate and that they should continue to be proud of their school.
The teachers of Oxford Regional continue to be proud of the job we do and the students we serve: past, present and future.
David P. McClelland is principal of Oxford Regional Schools.