AMHERST – While none of Cumberland County’s seven high schools made the Top 25 in this year’s AIMS annual high school report card, a researcher with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies says students in this part of Nova Scotia are continuing to improve.

With the seventh release of the school report card on Tuesday, Pugwash District High School slipped from 10th place a year ago to 28th this year but its overall grade remained relative consistent slipping from a B last year to a B- this time.

“Schools are getting better,” AIMS research manager Bobby O’Keefe said. “Not everywhere and not every year, but the early indications are that even schools with some of the worst grades in the early years are moving up over time.”

Amherst Regional High School, the largest school in the county, jumped from 45th last year to 39th while Parrsboro Regional High also jumped to 43rd from 55th a year ago.

Four Cumberland County schools were unranked because of insufficient information including Advocate District High School, Oxford Regional High School, River Hebert District High School and Springhill High.

O’Keefe is encouraged by this year’s report card because school boards and the province have begun providing his organization with the information it needs to compile its rankings.

“Over the past few years we’ve talked about how school boards and the department have been difficult in getting information from. That has finally resulted in us getting some additional information and that has allowed us to implement four new measures including attendance and marks in three subject areas,” O’Keefe said. “We’re also seeing some good signs of improvement coming from Nova Scotia schools. We’re getting a chance to look at some long-term improvements in schools across Nova Scotia.”

As much as the Department of Education and school boards try to downplay the report card, O’Keefe said it is playing a role in improving results because the more information available at the school level and released publicly the more the impetus is for change and improvement.

“Over the last year or so things have improved on the recording side and we’re seeing that again this year with more information,” he said. “The improvement has been very gradual, but it’s in the right direction.”

O’Keefe said the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, of which Cumberland County’s schools are a member, would not provide information in past years, but this year did.

He said future report cards will likely include those schools that didn’t get a grade this year, adding they are probably working on a system in which they can release the information in future years.

“It’s a step by step process of the schools looking at the results and seeing what areas they can improve in,” he said.

Again O’Keefe said it’s important for parents not to look at the rankings as an indication of how a school is doing. Instead, it should be viewed as a guidepost on which they can demand accountability. For schools themselves, he said, they can use the information as a basis for improvement.

“You look at the Top 10 or 15 schools, they are very similar in their grades,” he said. “Over time you can see some things changing in that schools move their way up or down, but if there’s one thing you can take from the rankings is to look at schools at the top and see what they’re doing right and what best practices do they have?”

The rankings also show that schools can improve no matter if they are big or small or urban or rural, rich or poor.