The Telegram (St. John’s)
News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004

 AIMS report card irks local educators

Danielle Breaker
Special to The Telegram

Newfoundland educators are giving the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ (AIMS) second annual high school report card a failing grade.

The report was released Tuesday and reflects various aspects of education based on 258 public high schools in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The report grades and ranks the schools to determine why students in the region tend to score lower academically than students in the rest of Canada.

Prince Edward Island didn’t participate.

Bert Tulk, assistant director of education for the Avalon East School District, said after analysing last year’s report, the school board found it had no impact on the schools in the province.

“We looked at (the AIMS report) closely with a hope and expectation that it would enlighten us in the debate of the educational situation, but when we got into it we found it held very little for us,” he said.

RAISES CONCERNS

Last year, the Halifax-based organization released its report card for the first time and it was met with concerns by some educators about its methodology.

English and mathematical achievement through standardized tests, honours and attendance rates, teacher- to-pupil ratios and other factors at schools were measured and analysed to reach comparative results. This year, the study took other measures into account — such as the grades graduates achieve once they’re in university.

This year, Cottrell’s Cove Academy was ranked highest in this province, but the school’s principal, Clary Loveless, says the AIMS report puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, and there’s no way all aspects of a school can be accurately evaluated.

“The indicators they use are mostly public exams, and there’s more to what makes a school effective than how students do on tests,” he said.

“If we rank low next year, it doesn’t mean we’re all of a sudden not doing an effective job. The indicators are limited. No one from the study has walked the corridors of our schools. You can’t tell how effective a school is by using those parameters.”

Mary Simms school in Main Brook was ranked second in Newfoundland and Labrador, followed by Lakeside Academy in Buchans, St. Boniface all-grade in Ramea and Fatima Academy in St. Bride’s to round out the top five. The highest-ranking St. John’s high school was Gonzaga, at No. 16.

AIMS president Brian Lee Crowley contends the report is important because it holds education systems accountable.

“The education establishment, for years, has been the judge and the jury of its own performance and it didn’t have to be held accountable for its actions,” he said.

“Once you introduce an independent group like AIMS, it becomes an independent yardstick to judge the school system. If we didn’t have an independent yardstick, how would we know if a school is in a bad place?”

Tulk insists his school board didn’t find much of merit in the report and prefers to use the Newfoundland Department of Education’s Indicators 2004 — a report on this province’s schools.

“It’s a best-practices compilation which is province-based, but doesn’t rank schools — that’s not the intent,” Tulk said.

“Its intent is to assist parents and the school community to gain knowledge on how to improve schools. I find this report to be more informative and enlightening for parents.

“The bottom line is, any information or data study report released or produced, we’ll look at it if it applies to schools and use it as a useful document in terms of programming. But the AIMS report wasn’t very useful.”

Crowley said the information used in the AIMS report is provided by the schools and other educational institutions, and the more information provided, the more effective the study will become.

“This is the second year and we’ve been able to get new measurements we couldn’t get last year,” he said.

“The additional information allows us to evaluate the schools and we think it’ll take about five years to claw out all the information in the nooks and crannies of the schools. In about five years, it’ll reach a stable plateau when people have provided us with enough information to do this properly. There’s going to be noise for the first couple of years while adding the information.

“Ironically, Newfoundland — the most resistant province — provided the most information (this year) as a reaction to what we’ve done in the past.”

Crowley said all AIMS is trying to do is give feedback to schools so they can improve.

“All we’re able to do is provide the objective information available which tells about schools, and we hope parents and teachers will look at it and find out how to do it better,” he said.

“We’re saying schools are benefiting from the feedback. We didn’t think they were getting enough of it. We’re one of the last corners of North America that’s not doing this kind of thing automatically.”

The Moncton Times and Transcript
Opinion, Wednesday, March 3, 2004, p. D7

Editorials

Allow schools to fix problems
We say: How is it that the problems with our schools are well-known and identified, but nobody seems able to fix them?

With the release Tuesday of the second Annual Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) report card on schools in the Atlantic region, education problems again take the spotlight.

The good news is that not much has changed since last year, so things are not getting worse. The bad news is that not much has changed since last year so things are not getting better either.

A prime question governments, educators, bureaucracy and the public ought to be asking is this: How is it that the problems and failings of our schools are well-known and identified, yet nobody seems able to fix them? How is it that, whatever the catchphrase of the year may be, government after government has studied education, outlined grand improvement plans and yet the schools end up no further ahead?

A lack of consistent benchmarks is part of the answer, and they have not been implemented, or are implemented but altered year over year to render them meaningless for valuable comparison. This hides the bureaucracy’s failings. And politicians don’t complain since it keeps public heat off them. Meanwhile, many students continue to graduate and find themselves struggling in university for which they ought to have been prepared; literacy and math skills remain a real concern, and the basics continue to often receive short-shrift as new layers of bureaucracy and trendy efforts are added. Fundamental meaningful reform remains blocked.

This goes far higher up the ladder than teachers and individual schools. Premier Bernard Lord restructured the governance system, but he stopped short of taking the most essential step reducing the size and power of the education bureaucracy. And so as often as not, that bureaucracy blocks genuine local efforts to actually fix a problem, sometimes by insisting on so many “adjustments” that the efforts are emasculated. Moncton’s English-language district has seen this happen during discussions of French immersion and inclusion, for example. Yet it is the same bureaucracy that created the system that isn’t working well.

The problems are not a mystery. But the system is setup to maximize the likelihood that truly effective reform will not happen. The answer? Give parents and local school authorities the power to make the changes required and get rid of the bulk of the self-serving bureaucracy.

The Moncton Times and Transcript
News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004, p. A1/A6

Provincial News

School rankings ‘not useful’
But think-tank says annual report, rating success of N.B. schools, designed to encourage dialogue on ways to improve education system

RHONDA WHITTAKER Times & Transcript Staff

French schools

A look at the rates at southeast French-speaking New Brunswick schools, by grade and provincial rank out of 21. Note that post-secondary achievement data was not available.

Polyvalente Clément-Cormier, Bouctouche

Overall grade: B, 5th

Post-secondary preparation, math: A+, 2nd

Post-secondary preparation, language: A, 2nd

École Mathieu-Martin, Dieppe

Overall grade: C+, 16th

Post-secondary preparation, math: C+, 12th

Post-secondary preparation, language: C+, 15th

Polyvalente Louis J. Robichaud, Shediac

Overall grade: C, 21st

Post-secondary preparation, math: B+, 4th

Post-secondary preparation, language: C, 16th

Is a 70 per cent average at one New Brunswick school the same as a 70 at another?

Shirley Carroll has to presume it is.

As associate registrar of admissions with the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Carroll uses strict criteria to assess students’ applications.

Their completed courses

and grade averages are essential. The high school where they get their diploma is not.

“A 60 is a 60, no matter what school you attend. We’re trusting the provincial education system to make sure the provincial level of academic achievement is consistent,” she said.

“We have no way of checking that. We’re not the watchdogs of the system.”

That’s the self-imposed mantle the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, or AIMS, would like to wear.

Yesterday the Halifax-based researchers released Report Card 2004, its second annual exercise in assessing high schools across the Atlantic provinces.

They tabulated a jumble of statistics everything from attendance rates to the socio-economic status of neighbourhoods feeding the school to paint a picture of the system they said parents and students desperately crave.

Achievement levels of students who graduated and went on to community college or university are among the variables that were weighed on their own, then calculated into the final rankings.

“It’s not an assessment of students or student cohorts. We encourage everyone to look at the whole picture. The overall rank and grade is just one piece of the puzzle,” said Charles Cirtwill, AIMS’ Director of Operations and head of the institute’s Education and School Reform Project.

“We’re trying to encourage a dialogue and a conversation about our school system.”

While AIMS has made some changes to the way it compiled and presented the data in 2004 – most notably, the English- and French-speaking sectors in New Brunswick were separated this year to reflect their different curriculums – there are few changes in the rankings compared to 2003’s.

Once again, the province’s top-ranked school was Sir James Dunn Academy in St. Andrews, which merited an A; at the bottom of the list, Bonar Law Memorial in Rexton dropped from a D in 2003 to an F in 2004.

And once again, Moncton-area schools were in the middle of the pack: the top-ranking Moncton school was Moncton High, with an overall B grade and a ranking of 17th among 49 English-speaking schools. Meanwhile, Polyvalente Clement-Cormier in Bouctouche was fifth among 21 French-speaking schools in New Brunswick – another B grade.

“You’re not going to see a lot of transition year over year,” Cirtwill said.

“Over time, if you see a school sliding from second to fifth to eighth, that’s showing a problem. But year-over-year changes are incidental at best.”

Last year’s report card garnered some passionate responses, and critics challenged AIMS’ methodology.

This year, at least one response could be characterized as dismissive.

“We don’t find it particularly useful to have broad comparisons from one school to another,” said New Brunswick Teachers Association spokesman Jim Dysart, who declined further comment.

Education department spokesman Hugues Beaulieu said yesterday afternoon that Education Minister Madeleine Dubé couldn’t immediately comment because she hadn’t yet read the report. She had just returned from Toronto, where she attended a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Education.

Gisele St-Amand, superintendent of School District 1, which represents French-language schools in southern New Brunswick, said she’s one of a few educators who support such report cards because they can prompt greater accountability.

She said while she doesn’t know if the AIMS report is faithful to reality, she’ll be studying it carefully to see what the highly ranked schools might be doing right.

“It’s one more tool we have, though it’s certainly not the only one,” she said.

“We’ll combine it with the other data we have, and it will inspire us to improve.”

Officials with School District 2, which represents English-language schools in southeast New Brunswick, weren’t available for comment yesterday, said communications supervisor Steve Mitton.

Following the first report card, the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation – a group representing the four provincial education ministers – hired a consultant, Dr. Bob Crocker of Memorial University in St. John’s, to evaluate it.

While Crocker conceded that accountability exercises like AIMS’ are here to stay, he said explicit rankings should not be used.

“School profiles should be complemented by a more explicitly comparative report,” he wrote.

As an example, he cited the New Brunswick School Report Card, a compilation of assessment results and test scores released by the provincial Department of Education annually. AIMS used some of the information in that report for its own report cards.

“However, this (provincial) report card is lengthy and does not lend itself to comparison on a variety of indicators,” Crocker wrote.

“If departments of education were to produce the kind of reports proposed, there would be little need for AIMS or other external agencies to continue working on school comparisons.”

That’s why AIMS is taking it on, said Cirtwill, who said the report’s researchers are “prisoners of the data” because there’s still not enough information available from education departments in the Atlantic region.

However, the group reserved some kudos for New Brunswick as the only province to boast its own consistent and comparable test results.


The Guardian (Charlottetown)
News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Schools tough to rate: study: Atlantic group criticizes province for not having enough data to assess high schools.

Jim Day
Prince Edward Island keeps a poor record on its students, says a new report.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) is urging Island educators to let the public know more about what is going on in their schools.

AIMS vice-president Charles Cirtwill said Prince Edward Island was only able to provide a limited set of criteria to help the institute rank Island high schools as part of its annual report card on Atlantic Canada high schools.

Cirtwill said with the province having no system of standardized exams, the capacity to compare across schools is limited.

Only post-secondary performance was available to assess academic achievement in the schools.

“P.E.I. is not even in the game as far as gathering, assessing and releasing information about schools,” said Cirtwill.

Linda Lowther, the Island’s senior director of public education, said the Education department collects plenty of relevant data, including number of students, teacher-student ratio and retention rates. High school graduates are also surveyed on their expectations.

She said standardized testing is expensive and unnecessary. Classroom teachers provide excellent assessment of the student’s academic performance, she said.

Overall, AIMS reported to have sufficient information to assess 10 high schools on P.E.I. for 2003.

Kinkora regional high school received the only overall A rating with an A-plus for academic achievement and a B-plus for academic engagement.

Kensington intermediate senior high school received a failing grade in academic achievement and a B for academic engagement for an overall C rating.

None of the remaining eight schools received higher than a B or lower than a C in either of the two categories.

Kinkora principal Jeff Squires was pleased to learn of his school’s top ranking.

“That’s a compliment to the teaching staff and the students both,” he said. “Those are the types of success stories you like to see. We’re extremely proud of the teachers that are at Kinkora high school.”

However, Lowther said the Education department is putting no weight on the report card. She said AIMS didn’t have sufficient data to rate academic achievement.

She believes the gap is “really small” in the level of academic achievement from one Island high school to the next.

She said the province doesn’t believe ranking schools serves an educational purpose.

“The results don’t give us information as to what the needs are,” she said. “It creates a high-stakes, competitive approach which is not a positive learning environment.”

 


The Halifax Chronicle Herald, The Daily News
Tuesday, March 2, 2004

N.S. students’ grades drop in university, study suggests

by Tutton, Michael

Many students in Nova Scotia’s high schools are seeing their averages drop suddenly when they go to university, according to a study to be released  today.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a public policy think-tank,  evaluated 258 public high schools from the four Atlantic provinces.

The authors say they’re concerned that some high-school graduates receive much lower grades when they reach university and college campuses.

Particularly in Nova Scotia, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect between high-school performance and performance in universities, said Charles Cirtwill, vice-president of the institute and co-author of the study.

We seem to do a little worse in post-secondary than our grade in high school would imply.

Cirtwill said high schools may need to look at whether they need to change their curriculum to better prepare students for college and university.

The study assigned an overall grade to each school, with extra points added for high schools where students are in poorer, rural areas.

That way, with the weighted system, schools can’t use the socio-economic factor as an excuse (for poor performance), said Cirtwill.

Last year’s study indicated that poor areas often deliver better education than wealthy urban schools.

New measurements

The trend was noted again this year, but the 2004 report card adds new measurements, including monitoring the grades each graduate achieves once they’re in university.

The gap in performance between university and school grades is most noted in Nova Scotia, said Cirtwill.

For instance, the province’s first-place school, Islands Consolidated school in Freeport, Digby Co., had high scores in language arts and science, with an A+ overall average in both areas.

However, in university and college, the achievement ranking was C+.

In post-secondary, they meet expectations, and that’s it. It’s the same for the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place school in Nova Scotia, said Cirtwill.

The study’s authors also say they’re still frustrated by the lack of information that the provinces’ departments of education provide.

Many schools in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have no information available on their overall performance in such subjects as math and humanities.


Rural highs get top marks
Halifax Chronicle Herald
Wednesday, March 3, 2004

By SUSAN BRADLEY Staff Reporter and JOHN GILLIS

Nova Scotia high schools received a B average in a 2003 report card released Tuesday by the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies.

This year’s mark is up from the C+ average rating the Halifax think-tank delivered last year for the 2002 school year, said institute vice-president Charles Cirtwill.

He and Memorial University professor Rick Audas authored the study of 237 high schools in the four Atlantic provinces.

Nova Scotia’s rural high schools took four of the top five spots in the province’s report card.

Islands Consolidated School in Freeport, Digby County, got an A+ and was rated the best high school in the province, followed by East Antigonish Academy, Monastery (B+); Sydney Academy (B+); Parrsboro Regional High School (B+); and Digby Regional High School (B).

“That showing is something we found last year, too. When you look at the context in which schools operate, you tend to see that rural schools exceed expectations,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

“They seem to be able to better handle challenges and take more advantage of opportunities.”

Rural schools, with less funding in some cases, may be more used to coming up with “different and unique solutions,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

In its assessment, the institute looks at school performance measured against reasonable expectations.

The study takes into account that all schools are not on a level playing field and adjusts its grades correspondingly using its proven methodology, Mr. Cirtwill said.

The institute also compiled data on enrolment, student-staff ratios, socio- economic conditions and what is known as “feeder achievement,” which reflects the quality of students arriving at the high schools.

It then considered academic achievement and the number of students staying in school.

Two Halifax-area high schools were at the bottom of the list of 63 Nova Scotia schools surveyed.

The institute gave its lowest mark for overall performance to J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax, with a C.

“J.L.’s grade overall stayed the same. When we looked at the hold and retention rate (of students), we found they had a really hard time keeping kids in school,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

The “hold” rate is determined by the number of students who move from Grade 10 into Grade 12, while “retention” is based on how many people leave Grade 12 with a diploma.

Pulling in at No. 59 was the new Halifax West High School (C+).

“When you look at Halifax West, they service a relatively affluent community. Their pupil-teacher ratio isn’t bad. But their hold and retention rates seem to be their problem. They also got an F on their (provincial) language arts exam.”

The other low-ranking high schools were Duncan MacMillan High School in Sheet Harbour (C+), Bridgewater Junior-Senior High School (C) and Hants North Rural High School in Kennetcook (C).

Ruth Schering-Hong, principal of the top-ranked Islands Consolidated, said “that’s lovely news” when told of her school’s first-place finish.

The Primary to Grade 12 school, near the tip of Digby Neck, has just 150 students. This year’s Grade 12 class has only 13 or 14 students.

“I think small schools in small communities do have the advantage of being a community school,” she said. “We tend to have most of our kids for the better part if not all of their public school career. So we know our kids and as a staff we grow with them.”

Patricia Joudrey, whose son is in Grade 12 at J.L. Ilsley, was disappointed with J.L.’s low ranking and said it’s unfair to compare a tiny school with one like J.L., which has 890 students in grades 10 to 12.

“I feel that at that type of school, a student’s going to get more of a one- on-one opportunity with the teachers. They’re going to be able to have a more focused class,” she said.

But another parent who didn’t want her name used said J.L. got the ranking it deserved.

“The one-on-one with teachers and students is bad,” said the woman, who has a son in Grade 11. “A lot of people are forgotten there. Those who need a lot of help, I don’t know if they necessarily receive it.”

The institute report shows more information is needed about individual school performance to improve the education system in Nova Scotia, Mr. Cirtwill said.

“This exercise just demonstrates that everyone wants to know more. When you look at provincial exam scores, when you look at averages in the mid-50s, that’s not going to make anybody happy.”


Schools tough to rate: study: Atlantic group criticizes province for not having enough data to assess high schools.
The Guardian (Charlottetown)
News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004, p. A1 / Front

By Jim Day

Prince Edward Island keeps a poor record on its students, says a new report.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) is urging Island educators to let the public know more about what is going on in their schools.

AIMS vice-president Charles Cirtwill said Prince Edward Island was only able to provide a limited set of criteria to help the institute rank Island high schools as part of its annual report card on Atlantic Canada high schools.

Cirtwill said with the province having no system of standardized exams, the capacity to compare across schools is limited.

Only post-secondary performance was available to assess academic achievement in the schools.

“P.E.I. is not even in the game as far as gathering, assessing and releasing information about schools,” said Cirtwill.

Linda Lowther, the Island’s senior director of public education, said the Education department collects plenty of relevant data, including number of students, teacher-student ratio and retention rates. High school graduates are also surveyed on their expectations.

She said standardized testing is expensive and unnecessary. Classroom teachers provide excellent assessment of the student’s academic performance, she said.

Overall, AIMS reported to have sufficient information to assess 10 high schools on P.E.I. for 2003.

Kinkora regional high school received the only overall A rating with an A- plus for academic achievement and a B-plus for academic engagement.

Kensington intermediate senior high school received a failing grade in academic achievement and a B for academic engagement for an overall C rating.

None of the remaining eight schools received higher than a B or lower than a C in either of the two categories.

Kinkora principal Jeff Squires was pleased to learn of his school’s top ranking.

“That’s a compliment to the teaching staff and the students both,” he
said. “Those are the types of success stories you like to see. We’re
extremely proud of the teachers that are at Kinkora high school.”

However, Lowther said the Education department is putting no weight on the report card. She said AIMS didn’t have sufficient data to rate academic achievement.

She believes the gap is “really small” in the level of academic achievement from one Island high school to the next.

She said the province doesn’t believe ranking schools serves an educational purpose.

“The results don’t give us information as to what the needs are,” she
said. “It creates a high-stakes, competitive approach which is not a positive
learning environment.”

Auburn Drive falls from No. 1 in annual high school rankings
The Daily News (Halifax)
Local News, Wednesday, March 3, 2004, p. 7

By Nicoll, Cathy

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ second annual rating of Nova Scotia high schools has listed tiny Islands Consolidated School in Freeport, Digby Co., at No. 1.

With an enrolment of about 150 students from Primary to Grade 12, and seven high school teachers, it was given an overall A-plus. It was unranked in 2002.

Islands Consolidated dethroned last year’s top-rated school, Auburn Drive in Cole Harbour. It dropped to No. 18 on the list of 63 schools rated province- wide. Auburn, with 1,159 students, earned a B, down from an A.

This year, Charles P. Allen in Bedford is the highest rated school in Halifax Regional Municipality, with a B-plus. It comes in at No. 8, up from No. 18 last year, when it got a B.

Study co-author Charles Cirtwill, AIMS vice-president, said yesterday that 94 per cent of schools were within plus or minus one grade point of where they were last year.

So there’s a high level of consistency, he said.

Cirtwill said Auburn Drive dropped two grade levels, from an A to a B, while other schools improved or held their own.

If you look at Auburn’s overall performance, they didn’t do too bad; they essentially meet expectations across most of the measures. They managed to do a very effective job retaining students, he said.

Sure, they’ve fallen down the rankings a little bit, but I wouldn’t be particularly concerned if I was a parent there. It looks like their post- secondary participation kind of dragged them down a little bit.

Sixty-three schools, instead of 75, were ranked this year because several schools were amalgamated, he said.

Halifax Regional School Board superintendent Carole Olsen said the board does not believe in ranking schools.

We certainly believe in us