The Atlantic Institute of Market Studies released its fourth annual ranking of Atlantic Canadian high schools last week.

For the second year in a row, most local schools placed somewhere around the middle of the pack.

But the final grades and rankings only tell part of the story.

In order to get to those final numbers the AIMS report looks at a number of different factors, everything from performance on tests to the socio-economic status of the community to post-secondary achievement.

Looking a little more closely paints a much better picture of where each school needs work and where it shines.

“Every school does something well and no school is likely to do everything perfectly,” says AIMS vice-president Charles Cirtwill. “We need to look at all the data to draw a complete picture of how things are going. We also need to look at performance over time.”

Each final score is made up of both an absolute and a contextual score.

The absolute score measures a school’s performance against the performance of the rest of the schools in the province. Schools that are better than the average are graded B or better, schools that are below the average get C+ or worse.

Contextual scores rate schools based on what they can reasonably be expected to achieve given their particular circumstances. It takes into account things like the size of the school, the number of teachers per student, the socio-economic status of the school community, and how well the students are doing when they enter the school.

Each of the items used to calculate the scores, like how many students move on from grade to grade, how many go on to attend post-secondary institutions, and marks in various subjects, are also graded and ranked, so it is possible to see how each school does in each area.

For example, J.M.A. Armstrong/Salisbury Middle School got a final grade of B and was ranked 15th overall, but it was ranked second overall with an A+ for its students’ post-secondary achievement.

Bernice MacNaughton Regional High School was rated first in the province with an A for its post-secondary preparatory language arts marks and Moncton High School scored an A+ and was ranked fourth on the math provincial exam.

Less encouragingly, a look at the contextual scores reveals that most schools, French and English, in the region are not living up to expectations. Although they may have rather good standings, their contextual scores suggest there is room for improvement.

One exception is Caledonia Regional High School in Hillsborough. Although it was the lowest of the District 2 ranked schools at 35th overall, it was still performing above expectations.

Harrison Trimble High School was also exceeding expectations.

District 2 Education Council vice-chairwoman Kelly MacKinnon says the district, which administers English schools in southeastern New Brunswick, values the information it gleans from the AIMS report, but she says numbers aren’t everything.

“Sometimes these stats don’t show the bigger picture. We know there are some really exciting things going on in our district, in our province, in education. In our district alone a lot of our community outreach programs wouldn’t really be touched on here and I think we are going to seem some great results (from them),” she says. “It is not just numbers and how well kids do on tests.”

Department of Education spokesman Jason Humphrey says the difficulty with a report like AIMS’ is that while it tells you what is happening, it doesn’t tell you why.

“That doesn’t stop us from using what it is,” he says. “That is helpful in that is their perception of the schools, so we need to look at what we’re doing and see what needs to be improved.”

Even Cirtwill will say that the report is only one tool of many that schools should use to measure success and figure out how to aim for excellence.

District 2 director of education John White says the AIMS report may be particularly useful this year as all district schools are going through their school review process.

“Everything is being reviewed by the provincial government and we gain a lot of data from that information which goes into the planning for the new school improvement plans,” he says. “The AIMS report will go into the mix of data that we will use in planning.”

Cirtwill says complete reports were mailed to each school, to district offices, parent-teacher groups, and local municipal organizations, along with information on how to interpret and use the reports to the school’s best advantage.