Schools can get better, it just takes time. That was the fundamental belief that led to the launch in 2003 of the AIMS Annual Report Card on Atlantic Canadian High Schools. Seven reports later and there is growing evidence that progress is being made.

“We made two points when we started this work,” says AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill, “education happens in schools, and progress does not happen overnight. Over the last four years, with basically the same proven measures in place, we have seen some schools improve their grade one or two steps at a time. And, occasionally, two steps forward and one back. But that is the nature of progress”

AIMS waited until solid trend data was in place before commenting on whether progress is being made in the region’s high schools. The answer, according to researchers, is a qualified yes. But that does not mean that there is not still work to be done.

Last year we highlighted the significant improvements that have been made in collecting, reporting and using school level information in managing our education system and making things better for students, parents and teachers.

We see progress again this year as Nova Scotia now releases teacher assigned grades and attendance data for its high schools. We have also seen the introduction in New Brunswick of individual school level report cards by the provincial government in both the francophone and Anglophone systems.

But lay those two reports side by side and a gaping hole in Anglophone reporting is readily laid bare; the continued failure to reintroduce the provincial level exams in the high school grades. We also continue to see situations where school level data is collected within the system and not shared readily with the public or even used effectively within the system itself.

Examples of this include district level tests or surveys held in house or only reported publicly at the district level (remember, education happens in schools and, indeed, in classrooms, not districts). Such failures to share or coordinate efforts often result in duplication or waste. Schools, for instance, will often attempt to fill in data gaps by fielding school level student, staff and parent surveys, surveys that in other areas are done by the district or the province.

With the seventh report, Cirtwill also sees mixed, but promising, results for our high schools. There continues to be movement in both directions, but more schools have seen their grade improve than decline in the past five years. Nova Scotia led the way with more than twice the number of improving schools than those seeing their grade fall.

Perhaps no school has seen such an improvement than has Hants North Rural High School in Kennetcook, Nova Scotia. After receiving a ‘D’ in three consecutive report cards, last year Hants North saw some improvement in certain measures but didn’t receive a final overall grade. This year that improvement continued and Hants North’s final grade has risen to a ‘B-’. While it still sits at about the provincial average, climbing from the bottom to the middle of the pack is no easy feat. Hants North was one of the first schools AIMS visited in our effort to show schools how to use the report card to improve performance.

Additionally, in Nova Scotia alone, Canso Academy, Drumlin Heights Consolidated School in Glenwood, Holy Angels High School in Sydney, Lockview High School in Fall River, and Halifax West High School have all seen their grades improve by three grade levels over the past five reports, showing that big or small, rich or poor, rural or urban, all school are capable of improvement.

While Nova Scotia appears to be leading the way, the other province’s have success stories of their own. Four schools in Newfoundland have seen a steady improvement over the years to move up at least two grade levels in the past five reports, including this year’s top school, J.M. Olds Collegiate in Twillingate. New Brunswick Anglophone and Francophone sectors have had a total of nine schools see an improvement of two grade levels, including Harbour View High School in Saint John, Petitcodiac Regional School, and Ecole Clement Cormier in Bouctouche.

Prince Edward Island with its small number of schools has a success story with Kensington Intermediate-Senior High climbing from a ‘C+’ to a ‘B’ since the fourth annual report to claim the highest grade of all Prince Edward Island schools receiving a final grade.

Even those schools without a final grade due to insufficient data are showing signs of improvement. River Hebert District High School in Nova Scotia, like Hants North, received a ‘D’ overall in the fourth and fifth annual report – including a ‘D’ in RC5 for how well its students fared in their first year of post-secondary study. Their post-secondary achievement now gets them an ‘A’, the best post-secondary performance of any school in that province.

To access the complete report card, click here.

To read the abbreviated results for: