By Shawn Berry
As appeared on page A3
Education Minister Kelly Lamrock says he’ll present plans to restore some standardized assessments in high schools in his education plan later this month. He made the comments as the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think-tank, decried the loss of standardized-test results for the province’s anglophone schools as it released its fifth annual report card on schools in Atlantic Canada.
“Certainly I agree with them that there should be assessments,” Lamrock said Thursday.
“There will certainly be among the things in the education plan an accountability framework that will ensure not only that we have more assessments and data, but that we actually use the data to make changes.”
Schools in central New Brunswick grabbed three of the Top 5 spots on the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ annual assessment of the 50 Anglophone high school in the province.
Upper Miramichi Regional High School in Boiestown ranked first in the annual survey. Fredericton High School was third in the province. Blackville School ranked fifth. École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton ranked fifth among the 21 francophone high schools. The people who compiled the study say reductions in provincial high school exams around the province have left stakeholders less informed about the quality of education New Brunswick students receive.
“When they abandoned the standardized tests, they also stopped collecting the teacher-assigned grades,” said Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the institute and co-author of the report.
“What they’ve done is take those manners of assessing schools and taken them out of the public domain.”
The province phased out provincial assessment for high school students except those in Grade 9. The institute has criticized the province for phasing out provincial high school exams in the English sector and cutting back on the number of provincial exams in the French sector. Of the nine indicators the institute uses to assess academic achievement, the only one the institute could get to assess English-language schools in New Brunswick was details of post-secondary achievement.
In other jurisdictions, the institute also uses school marks for math, science, language arts and humanities, as well as the provincial exam results from those same subjects to determine academic achievement.
New Brunswick is no longer collecting the data.
Among the schools that saw their performance decline to a D over the past year was Cambridge-Narrows school, which fell from a C last year.
Hartland High School also saw a significant decline from B to C.
The superintendent of School District 18 welcomes word that the education minister is looking at providing more assessments.
“There is a need for some kind of assessment tool,” said Alex Dingwall.
“We feel there is a necessity to have provincial standards so we can assess how well our high schools are doing.
“We relied on the provincial exams for a long time, and once they were gone, I think we realized how much we did rely on them to help measure student success and school improvement.”
Dingwall said schools will look at the institute’s results, but added results don’t “seem to be consistent from year to year.”
For instance, Harvey High School was ranked first last year. It was 20th in Thursday’s report.
The report card looks at five inputs and 17 outcomes to determine how well schools are performing.
Inputs include enrolment, pupil-teacher ratio, socio-economic status of the school catchment area, average teacher certification and the performance of middle school students who move on to high school.
Besides grades and test results, the outcomes include attendance rates, the rate of promotion from each grade level, the proportion of students taking preparatory courses for post-secondary math and language arts.
Besides the results from standardized testing and grades, Cirtwill said he would also like to have access to details about absence rates, discipline rates and a survey of graduates who don’t go into colleges and universities after high school.
Lamrock said the assessments the government chooses to put in place won’t necessarily be those the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies wants.
“I do agree with them that when you care about something, you have to not only assess it and make the data public, but you have to have actions that correspond,” he said.
The minister said he wants to use the information to make changes.
“The (institute’s) methodology does nothing on critical thinking, nothing on problem-solving, nothing on how well schools do at inclusive education and helping kids with special needs and how well we do at second-language education.”