I remember in the 1990s when the Department of Education used to release provincial exam scores for high schools in Manitoba. It was designed to give the public and parents some insight into how well their schools were measuring up against each other and to provincial standards.
It was never meant to judge schools on their overall academic performance, although critics — especially teachers’ unions — tried to characterize it as that. They said releasing average marks for schools was unfair because it pitted schools against each other and because it failed to explain why some schools — particularly in the inner-city — may not fare as well as others in more affluent neighbourhoods.
In fact, teachers’ unions back then were opposed to provincial standards testing altogether, arguing it forced teachers to teach to the test rather than to employ broader education strategies. As if those were mutually exclusive exercises.
In reality, publishing average scores for individual schools was done simply to provide the public with a benchmark of how well schools were doing based on a provincial standard. It was never intended to act as an overall assessment of school performance. Not by a long shot.
Everyone knew there were other aspects of school operations that would have to be gauged — including pupil/teacher ratios, percentage of students that moved on to the next grade, parent involvement, extra-curricular programs, etc. — in order to provide a more complete assessment of a school’s performance.
Despite that, the province decided to no longer publish average marks of individual schools, opting instead to bury the information and keep the public in the dark on how well schools are measuring up.
It’s the same reason Education Minister Nancy Allan refused to provide basic data to the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, which recently completed a report card on high schools in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. While Saskatchewan was perfectly happy to hand over data on school performance, including average marks for schools, Manitoba was only willing to share a small amount of information.
The NDP government refused to release average grades for individual schools.
Which leads one to wonder — what are they afraid of?
If the province was truly committed to openness and transparency, they would release as much information as possible about schools, their operations and their outcomes. If the public isn’t aware of shortcomings in the system, how are they suppose to address them?
I think people would want to know how their kids’ schools stacks up against other schools when it comes to marks and other aspects of school operations. Actually, I think they have a right to know, both as taxpayers and as parents of kids who attend the school.
The AIMS study is actually a pretty good one because it covers a lot of areas of school operations, not just grades.
It’s a shame the Selinger government doesn’t want kids, parents and taxpayers to benefit from that.
They prefer secrecy over accountability. It’s easier that way.