The Guardian – 040408

A principal dismisses a report that has placed her school at the top of the pack three years running. Seana Evans-Renaud of Souris Regional High School puts little credence in an annual grading of high schools in the region by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), an independent economic and social policy think tank. She said the report, released Thursday for the sixth straight year, isn’t helpful to her as a principal.

“It certainly is not constructive as far as promoting education and in many cases you are comparing apples to oranges,’’ said Renaud. “Numbers cannot accurately portray the good education that students are getting on this Island. I think all of our high schools belong (at) number one because we are doing an incredible job with the cards we have been dealt.’’

The report gives Souris regional a B+ ranking, down from an A- grade last year, but good enough to place ahead of the seven other Island high schools that were graded in the report. Souris has held the top ranking among Island high schools each of the last three years. The report was soundly criticized by P.E.I. educators as irrelevant and lacking substance.

“It’s not a lot different from previous years: a lot of assumption on little data,’’ said Dale Sabean, superintendent of the Western School Board. “I don’t place a lot of value in what I’m reading here (in the AIMS report).’’

AIMS executive vice-president Charles Cirtwill said the report is filled with comprehensive, valuable data. The report grades schools based on their educational outcomes in two categories: achievement and engagement.

Cirtwill noted it is unfortunate that P.E.I. still does not have provincial examinations at the high school level. While missing this indicator, the AIMS sixth Annual Report Card for Atlantic Canadian High Schools still includes extensive data sets for other indicators in P.E.I., he said.

The data sets include teacher-assigned grades in four subject areas: math, science, language arts, and humanities; data for all engagement measures except attendance, and a valid post-secondary indicator despite the refusal of UPEI to provide data on the performance of its first-year students.

Vianne Timmons, vice-president of academic development at UPEI, said the university declined to take part in the AIMS study because the numbers in P.E.I. are small and students could possibly be identified from data.

Cirtwill contends making performance data publicly available helps schools focus on what is important — the educational outcomes of students.

Sandy MacDonald, superintendent of the Eastern School District, said he understands that AIMS is trying to make schools more transparent, but he calls the group’s approach flawed. MacDonald said he takes great issue with AIMS trying to “artificially rank schools from worst to first.’’ He also questions the reliability of the rankings when Souris went from dead last to first among Island high schools in just one year.

Cirtwill suggested the big jump, which took place from the third to fourth report, may be due to Souris scoring high in the first-year teacher-assigned grades provided by Island schools.

Dale McIsaac, principal of Bluefield High School, certainly isn’t ruffled by his school’s C+ grade and last place ranking among Island high schools in the report.

“They don’t have any credibility with me,’’ said McIsaac. “There is no data in the report card. There is just innuendo.’’