The eighth annual report card on New Brunswick’s schools done by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) was released this week and is showing overall generally positive results and improvement within our education system. As well, judging from the comments of education officials, the annual rating is proving to be a valuable tool, if not the only one, for administrators in determining what needs further attention and where.

This positive attitude and co-operation with AIMS researchers is in itself praiseworthy. Eight years ago the situation was considerably different, with the AIMS effort being met with lack of co-operation in some areas and considerable suspicion from government and education bureaucracy. Since then, AIMS has worked with the educators to understand and account for their concerns and the educators themselves have come to see the results of the survey as a useful snapshot that helps them identify weaknesses. The goal of everyone is the same: to improve education in New Brunswick.

The fact the gaps between school performances are narrowing is positive and reflects real efforts to improve across the system. And while schools can rise or fall on the rating scale from year to year, it appears to us that most are making gains or slipping very little. There will always be a little bit of what might be called natural variation beyond anyone’s control and minor changes ought not to surprise or alarm anyone.

We find it interesting that the best performing schools tend to be those in rural areas (including this year’s top school, Petitcodiac Regional). Why? It’s a question worth exploring and perhaps our urban schools and education officials could learn and effect positive changes.

The one main criticism AIMS has of the English-language school system in New Brunswick — a criticism backed by common sense — is that there are no provincial exams in Grade 12 and thus there is no way for education officials to actually know how well, at the end of the 12-year schooling period, any given school or district has performed in relation to other schools. It is time to reinstate the provincial exams, for without the assessment there is neither accountability nor any logical way to know where greater effort is required. To its credit, the French-language system has maintained provincial exams.