In Brief: For the first time the Province of Nova Scotia has released school by school results for almost all provincial assessments (only high school exams and the associated teacher assigned grades still remain to be released to the public). As expected, the results are not good and people are worried. When invited by the media to comment on the less than glowing results, AIMS Executive Vice President Charles Cirtwill suggested it is not time to panic, yet.

“I wouldn’t worry so much about the scores; it’s what they tell you when you ask about the scores,” said Cirtwill. He then highlighted the differences in the board level summaries included in this year’s provincial report to parents. Halifax and the Strait in particular provided relatively more detail about their approaches. They talked about their own internal assessments, how they complimented the provincial assessments, how they collectively had an unapologetic focus on student achievement. They outlined (briefly) what their tests measure, how they are used in the classroom and in administration and how they translate into measurable acts on the part of teachers and measurable improvement on the part of students. They also highlighted who gets the results and when, and they encouraged people to think about them.

Cirtwill noted that this detail and focus was lacking in some of the other board reports. He suggested that far too much time was used up with catch phrases like “focus on collaboration” and “professional learning communities” which no doubt, mean something to most educators but are of little help to the people this report is targeted at; parents. He concluded that those Boards with demonstrable success seemed less prone to rely on rhetoric alone then those who had yet to see a turnaround, that is a cause for concern.

Students at some elementary schools in the province are lagging far behind their peers in math.

The Education Department released for the first time on Monday a school-by-school breakdown of how elementary pupils at each institution fared in the province’s 2007 standardized tests.

The annual Minister’s Report to Parents shows that less than half of the Grade 3 students tested at several schools met expectations for early elementary math literacy, while many others scored significantly below the provincial average of 67 per cent.

Some of the worst-performing schools were: Port Maitland Consolidated, where 15 per cent of students met expectations; South Centennial in Yarmouth, with 17 per cent; Bicentennial in Dartmouth, 18; Hillcrest Academy in Shelburne, 22; and Gertrude Parker Elementary in Lower Sackville, 26.

Allen Ferguson, the acting principal at Port Maitland Consolidated, wasn’t keen to talk about how his school fared last year.

“It wouldn’t be fair for me to comment to you on something you’re just kind of springing on me now,” Mr. Ferguson said. “I wouldn’t really even be qualified to comment. I was in the gym last year. I was a phys-ed teacher here, so I’m just kind of filling in this year.”

The tests for math literacy involved more than simple arithmetic, requiring students to solve mathematical problems by interpreting terminology and using words to explain answers.

All of the students met math expectations at Bridgeport in Glace Bay, North Highlands Elementary in Dingwall, Acadia Street Elementary in New Glasgow, Scotsburn Elementary in Scotsburn, Bel Ayr Elementary in Dartmouth, Sackville Centennial Elementary in Lower Sackville, Sir Charles Tupper in Halifax and Greenfield Elementary in Queens County.

Brenda Waterman, principal at Bel Ayr Elementary, said she was pleased with how her students performed.

“I feel really good. We did all right.”

She said she would have been more concerned if her students hadn’t done as well, but she stressed that the tests are only one piece of information to indicate what help students need.

“It’s a snapshot in time,” Ms. Waterman said. “From year to year, the needs of our children vary.”

Many factors influence how students do on the tests, ranging from whether it was a scorching hot day in June when they wrote them or if they had eaten breakfast that morning, she said.

Even if students did well, the tests still help teachers and principals identify specific parts of the school’s math program that need work, she said.

“We’re always concerned. We’d be asking ourselves if our children aren’t doing well, what else is it we can be doing.”

The report also included school-by-school results from the early language literacy assessment for students in Grade 3, the elementary literacy assessment for students in Grade 6 and the junior high literacy assessment in Grade 9.

Generally, schools seemed to fare better in those areas, although only eight per cent of students at Dr. Arthur Hines Elementary in Summerville met expectations for expository writing in early language literacy.

Only 13 per cent met expectations at St. Patrick’s-Alexandra in Halifax and only 14 per cent at Drumlin Heights Consolidated in Glenwood, compared with the provincial average of 62 per cent.

Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, which has produced a report card on the province’s schools for six years, said parents don’t need to be especially concerned if their children attend one of the schools that scored lower.

“They should be more worried if those schools don’t have a plan to address those situations,” Mr. Cirtwill said.

He identified three regional school boards “at the top of the pile” — Halifax, Strait and Chignecto-Central — while the Tri-County, Annapolis and South Shore regional boards lack a specific course of action in mind to improve their performance.

“If I was a parent in those three boards, I’d be worried,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry so much about the score; it’s what they tell you when you ask about the score.”

Mr. Cirtwill said releasing publicly school-by-school results has been shown to improve specific institutions.

Vince Warner, the director of evaluation service for the Education Department, said publishing the specific results isn’t intended to foster competition between schools because each one has different strengths and needs.

“We have no intention to compare schools because the data is at each individual school for them to use in the context of their community and the resources that they have,” Mr. Warner said. “But parents need to know this information so they will know what areas they can pitch in and perhaps give some help at their individual school.

“It provides the parents something to discuss at the school level, to get involved at the school level and to see how they can be involved in making improvements.”

He said the information gathered is just one thing that school administrators can use to find areas that need fixing.

Students wrote most of these provincial tests for the first time in 2007, but the Grade 6 literacy exam has been held since 2003.