Applying standard to every school seen as misleading

A recent report that orders Saskatchewan schools by graduation rate, test scores and many other measures has Saskatoon school divisions questioning the usefulness of such a ranking.

“We don’t need a national report to tell us what our work should be in the school division,” said Cindy Coffin, assistant superintendent of learning services at Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools.

On Monday, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy released its first interim report card on western Canadian high schools.

The data wasn’t a surprise to school divisions, but the report is the first of its kind to collect and publicly release such information broken down for each Saskatchewan school. A final report card that compiles all the information the institutes have gathered — including the social and economic conditions surrounding each school — is due out in September.

Although Saskatoon’s public and Catholic school divisions say they have no problem with the information being made public, they do have questions about the way the numbers are presented.

Despite AIMS saying the interim report is not a “ranking” of schools, each school is assigned a number to order it from highest to lowest in many measures.

Some of the numbers collected, such as pupil-teacher ratios, are so close together that a difference of just 0.02 can affect a school’s ranking by 15 spots, Coffin said. When the differences are so marginal between schools, it’s “misleading” to order them, she said.

“I don’t think it serves our work to assign a number,” Coffin said.

Saskatoon Public Schools superintendent of education Barry MacDougall said the report will be useful for individual schools and school community councils to look at, and that the division will use the information as part of its decision-making to keep trying to improve students’ outcomes.

Coffin added much of the information, such as test scores gathered through provincial assessment exams, has already been used to adjust practices at some Catholic schools.

Both point out that each school in the province has unique circumstances to deal with.

Saskatoon public’s board chair, Ray Morrison, wonders why the report attempts to compare schools such as Nutana and City Park Collegiate with the rest of the province’s schools, when the programs they offer are so different and specific. It doesn’t make sense to compare Nutana’s graduation rates with more typical high schools, he said, because many students go there to upgrade or finish high school and take just one or two classes.

“They’ve taken one standard and tried to apply it to every school,” he said.

Coffin said she was also disappointed the interim report was released using some data that was clearly incorrect. For example, the report initially said Star City High School had a student-teacher ratio of 98.7 and St. Joseph’s High School had an average of 60 kids per teacher, giving them the highest and second-highest pupil-teacher ratios in the province.

AIMS sent out corrected information on Wednesday, which said St. Joseph actually has the 29th largest class sizes in the province, and Star City has one of Saskatchewan’s smallest ratios at about 9.2 students per teacher.

Division officials do seem more enthusiastic about the final report, which is meant to take social and economic conditions into account when comparing schools.

“We’ll be interested to see what comes of that,” said Scott Tunison, the public division’s co-ordinator of research and measurement. “I’ve not seen anybody do that, at least in this province. I’m curious.”

Provincial pupil-teacher ratios

Aden Bowman 18.09 17th
Bedford Road 18.1 16th
Bishop James Mahoney 16.87 30th
Bishop Murray 15.14 81st
City Park 10.65 246th
E.D. Feehan 16.42 40th
Ecole Canadienne Francaise 21.36 5th
Evan Hardy 19.66 9th
Holy Cross 20.22 7th
Marion Graham 17.77 20th
Martensville H.S. 15.57 61st
Mount Royal 15.7 60th
Nutana 13.99 123rd
Oskayak 17.2 23rd
St. Joseph 16.88 29th
Walter Murray 16.73 34th
Warman H.S. 17.14 24th

Source: Atlantic Institute for Market Studies Interim Report Card for Western Canadian High Schools February 2010 — corrected.

New numbers were provided to The StarPhoenix when the Institute realized there was incorrect data in the original report, some of which appeared in Tuesday’s StarPhoenix