By Aloma Jardine
As appeared on page A9

They disagree on certain points, but one thing the education minister, school officials and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) stand together on is the idea that AIMS’s annual high school report card can’t be taken at face value.

AIMS released its fifth annual report card yesterday.

The report awards grades from A to F to each high school in Atlantic Canada and ranks the schools in each province.

“You have to look beyond the overall rank and grade,” says AIMS acting president Charles Cirtwill. “It’s important to look at the detailed information.”

District 2 director of education John White says they take a careful look at the report each year.

District 2 administers English-language schools in southeastern New Brunswick.

“We don’t pay as much attention to the ranking right off the bat. What we do is take a look at the information about each school and see if we can really understand where that information comes from, how they’ve come up with their determination within the different categories,” White says. “I think the key thing is no one indicator is the end all and be all. It is what you take from everything, that is where the real value comes.”

Cirtwill says it is important to look at each school separately.

“This is our fifth annual report card. It is based on the assumption that education happens in individual schools, not in systems,” he says.

“After five years it is clear that our original thesis was correct: good schools come in all shapes and sizes.”

Among the top 10 are some of the biggest and some of the smallest schools in the province, with the best and worst teacher-student ratios and socio-economic status.

Upper Miramichi Regional High School, for example, which was ranked number one this year, has only 110 students, making it one of the province’s smallest schools. It is the school with the worst socio-economic situation and is ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of the achievement of students from its feeder schools.

“Good schools find ways to educate kids no matter what,” Cirtwill says. “No matter where you live, no matter how big or small your school is, that school can serve you well, so take no excuses for poor performance.”

District 2 schools fared better in the ranks this year.

In 2006 the top District 2 school was ranked 15th out of 50 English-language schools in the province and had a B grade.

This year the district has three schools in the top ten, two with B+ grades.

Petitcodiac Regional School jumped from 31st in 2006 to sixth this year, the district’s top ranked school.

Riverview High School also made quite a climb up the ladder, from 24th last year to eighth this year, while J.M.A. Armstrong/Salisbury Middle School, which was the top school in the district last year, climbed from 15th to ninth.

In District 1, which administers French language schools in southern New Brunswick, École Mathieu-Martin was 14th out of 22 French language schools, dropping from seventh last year, while École L’Odyssée was not ranked because the report requires three years of data and the school has only been open for two.

Officials from District 1 were out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment.

Cirtwill says there was a lot of movement in the rankings among English-language schools in New Brunswick and puts some of the blame on the elimination of provincial high school exams.

“By taking away those exams you are taking away an important piece of information about how schools are doing,” he says. “When you take away something you’ve spent so much time and energy putting into place, you are limiting the ability to track the impact of various decisions you’ve made.”

Education Minister Kelly Lamrock says collecting data is important, but what is more important is what one does with it.

“It is not just how often you assess, it is what you assess and how you use that information,” he says.

Lamrock says the government’s new education plan, scheduled to be made public by the end of the month, will include more assessments, but also action to follow up the assessments.

He says the plan will also include an accountability framework.

While the previous government set targets of what level every child should be at by the end of Grade 2, the accountability framework will go the next step and determine what happens when a child hasn’t hit the target.

Lamrock says the province needs to find better ways for schools to share information so they can learn from what each does best.

They also need to find ways of checking back in with schools to make sure improvements are being made and to provide tools for parents to track that progress.

The Liberal government campaigned on the promise of changing New Brunswick’s education system from worst to first.

“Good luck with that! I think they have a lot of work in front of them,” Cirtwill says. “First of all, you can’t get from worst to first unless you know what you have today.”

He says the government would do well to put some resources into determining where things stand, then laying out where they want to be five and ten years from now.

“Until you have a plan, to go from worst to first is just a promise,” he says.