WINNIPEG — Manitoba “operates in the dark ages” compared to other western provinces in its lack of information on how students perform academically at individual high schools, a report by a couple of conservative think-tanks suggested Monday.

But Manitoba’s education minister made no apologies for the province’s approach, saying that pitting schools against each other doesn’t serve any purpose.

The report by the Nova Scotia-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Manitoba-based Frontier Centre for Public Policy said British Columbia makes public the five-year comparisons of academic achievement, graduation rates and dropout rates for each school in the province.
Alberta is close behind, providing exam scores for every school while Saskatchewan provides data upon request.

Manitoba has the most limited access to valuable school level data, said the report.
The province provides school level grade-by-grade enrolment data publicly but does not provide any school level results of provincial assessments, number of graduating students at schools, attendance, or track participation in post-secondary study.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said that’s unlikely to change.

We don’t really have a comfort level with this model of pitting one school against another, she said. One school ends up at the bottom, and it could be a great school.

It can be demoralizing for everyone involved. I like to think all of our schools are fantastic schools.

Allan said that the department website contains province wide information on graduation rates and on overall academic performance. Ranking schools serves only those with a political agenda who want to attack teachers and public schools, agreed Pat Isaak, president of the Manitoba Teachers Society.

They don’t serve any useful purpose. There’s nothing to be gained by ranking schools, Isaak said. The money spent producing those rankings could be going into the classroom.

Under the former Conservative government of Gary Filmon, school-by-school results in Grade 3 and Grade 12 math and language arts exams were made public in the late 1990s, and there were plans to expand to more province wide testing in more subjects and in more grades.

But the NDP scrapped the Grade 3 tests, and ended the practice of publishing school-by-school Grade 12 scores.

Carolyn Duhamel, the executive director of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said that she hasn’t heard any demand for such detailed information.

“By and large, the school boards have supported the provincial direction here,” Duhamel said. “The province does not post a ranking. There’s not really consensus whether that’s useful or not.”

The report’s authors suggested that students perform better academically, the more information they have about performance.

“Schools became better regardless of where they were, the types of families they served or the resources each school had,” said the report. “Rich suburbs or poor inner-city neighbourhoods, remote rural schools or schools serving thousands of kids, they all got better the more they told the public about what was going on.”