Move over, Maclean’s annual university survey, there’s a new kid on the education-evaluation block, and the upstart has already generated at least as much controversy as the magazine’s yearly ranking of Canada’s institutions of higher learning.

The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has released a best-to-worst ranking of the 75 high schools in Nova Scotia, with Halifax’s Auburn Drive coming in first, and Oxford Regional High bringing up the rear. Among other metro schools, Queen Elizabeth High landed at No. 2; while J.L. Ilsley and Cole Harbour District High were in the bottom 10 ranking, respectively, at No. 68 and 71.

Rankings of any kind, whether they involve all-time hockey teams or popular songs or movies, spark strong emotions.

But those types of ratings are trivia exercises. The comparative evaluation of institutions such as schools, in which lives and livelihoods are heavily invested, is another matter altogether.

AIMS, which is known more as an economic think-tank than for its expertise in education, had to have known it was putting its head in the lion’s mouth when it decided to do the study. And when the results were made public last week, the lion’s jaws snapped shut.

Critics of the ratings included Education Minister Angus MacIsaac, NDP MLA Bill Estabrooks, Halifax Regional School Board superintendent Carole Olsen and, of course, Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union president Brian Forbes, who dismissed the study as a ‘publicity stunt.’

Then again, the NSTU has been playing defence like the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers since the poor performance of Nova Scotia students on standardized math tests hit the headlines. So its leader’s negative spin on the AIMS report is hardly surprising.

AIMS’s response is that the purpose of is ranking was to insist that it is filling a need parents and teachers themselves have expressed a need to see ‘what success looks like, in the words of study co-author Charles Cirtwill.

Now, we know what AIMS’s idea of success looks like: test scores, participation in advanced courses, graduation rates and performance at post-secondary institutions.

Those are relevant criteria, but their focus is a bit narrow, and success doesn’t always fit into a single mould.

Hopefully, future discussion of the AIMS rankings will shed a little less heat, and a little more light, on the education system.