The right-leaning Atlantic Institute for Market Studies released its ninth-annual “report card” on Atlantic Canadian high schools last week.

The ranking — in which individual high schools are assigned a letter grade by AIMS — is based on criteria such as attendance, the percentage of students passing, marks in individual school courses and provincial exams, the percentage of students preparing for post-secondary education, and the percentage of graduating students pursuing post-secondary education.

AIMS uses a three-year moving average for its report. For the most recent ranking, the Halifax-based think-tank gleaned its data from the 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years. In other words, the report card is always a little out of date; but that’s the nature of statistical data.

This year, Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional School of Antigonish was “No. 1” among 54 of Nova Scotia’s English schools in the ranking, with an overall grade of A-. Cape Breton Highlands Academy in Terre Noire took the No. 2 spot after leading the rankings in the previous three years.

Reactions to the annual ranking are somewhat predictable and a little comical; school board officials are generally publicly dismissive of the AIMS report, while administrators at the top-ranked schools often express surprise and tentative pride, without giving AIMS a heck of a lot of credit.

The AIMS report card is not to be dismissed outright as a once-a-year headline grabber. It is an exhaustive ranking that compiles measurable “outcomes” such as marks and attendance rates, and takes into account “difficulties” and “advantages” that are beyond the control of individual schools such as enrolment, student-to-teacher ratio and socio-economic status.

School boards might pooh-pooh the ranking, but it is a good gauge for school administrators to make comparisons with other schools and perhaps investigate what another school might be doing better.

But AIMS wants to engage on a deeper level with individual schools and parents, and offers “how to read the report card” briefing sessions that can be “school, board/district or province specific.”

However, we suspect most individual schools and school boards would be wary about taking advice on how to “make public education better for everyone” from an organization led not by educators, but by a who’s who of big business in Atlantic Canada.

We suspect, too, that most parents are much more interested in what grades their children get than what grade AIMS has assigned to the school their children attend. Parents who are sufficiently engaged are apt to identify deficiencies (without the help of a “market studies” organization) and work to correct them.

There’s no doubt that the AIMS report card is comprehensive and interesting, but its potential for influence shouldn’t be overstated.