N.B. schools move closer in annual AIMS rankings, but find areas to improve
If New Brunswick schools are going to continue to improve, then they need to keep the bar high, according to the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (AIMS).
Bobby O’Keefe, the institute’s manager of government performance and accountability, says over the past several years schools have been moving closer and closer to one another in their rankings in AIMS’ annual high school report card.
“The bottom of the list seems to be catching up with the pack,” he says. “With the wide range of measures we do use and the fact that the information is available and schools are starting to use the information more, they are starting to do things to work on areas of weakness “_ As schools are able to use information more, that is going to happen, the bar will start to level a bit from top to bottom.
“The important thing “_ is to make sure the bar continues to rise as it levels.”
Local schools did reasonably well in the rankings this year, with Petitcodiac Regional School making the top of the list among English-language schools across the province and École Mathieu-Martin in Dieppe ranking fourth among the province’s French-language high schools.
Mathieu-Martin falls under District 1, which, while based in Dieppe, administers French-language schools across southern New Brunswick, including those in Fredericton and Saint John.
Its schools led the way in the AIMS rankings for French-language schools, taking three of the top four spots. Centre scolaire Samuel-de-Champlain in Saint John was ranked first and École Sainte-Anne in Fredericton, third.
“We’re very pleased with the performance,” says District 1 superintendent Anne-Marie LeBlanc. “(Samuel-de-Champlain) was always near the top of the list, but we are very, very happy with this, it is very positive.”
Samuel-de-Champlain rose from fifth place to first on the strength of its provincial exam marks and student participation in post-secondary preparation courses.
Sainte-Anne has also hovered near the top and Mathieu-Martin has usually been in the upper half of the rankings, but it moved from seventh to fourth this year, scoring well across the board, and particularly shining on its students’ performance on provincial math and language arts exams.
“I think there has been a more rigorous accent on learning and on how to help students who are not doing well and who are dropping out,” LeBlanc says. “There has been a change in the way of doing things, a much more structured approach for students with learning problems, and the whole mixture of that has certainly contributed to their improvement.”
But the news wasn’t all positive for District 1. Their fourth high school, École L’Odyssée in Moncton, was ranked last out of the province’s 21 French-language high schools.
This is the second year in a row L’Odyssée has come in last in the AIMS rankings, but LeBlanc says the school did make progress this year, moving from a C- to a C grade.
“So all francophone schools made progress,” she says.
Still, it is a tough position for the school to find itself in.
“The principal said to me, ‘It will be a blow for all of us, but we will have to pull up our sleeves and make it better,'” LeBlanc says. “I have to applaud that attitude. There is a very strong culture of learning there and I am hopeful they will make it better.”
LeBlanc has spoken with the principal a few times since the results were released.
“He wants to understand much better why and how to improve,” she says.
L’Odyssée’s scores were all over the board, ranging from A- to F.
The school did well in the number of students taking post-secondary preparation courses and on its math school marks, but scored Fs for its Grade 12 graduation rate and its students’ post-secondary achievement.
It also received Ds for its language arts school marks and its language arts provincial exam.
LeBlanc says they were very surprised to find the school at the bottom of the list again because of the progress that has been made, but they are hopeful the school will continue to make gains and that will begin to be reflected in its rankings. The AIMS report is based on three-year averages, so it takes several good years before any change begins to show up.
LeBlanc says the district takes the AIMS report as one more evaluation that provides some indicators of how it can do better at all its schools.
“I’m sure the Centre scolaire Samuel-de-Champlain will still be looking at the points where they can do better,” she says, even though it topped the list. “Every photograph is a way to look at where we are and where we can go.”
Schools across the province will no doubt be looking to the report to see where they can make improvements.
Harrison Trimble was the lowest ranked school in District 2, which administers English-language schools in southeastern New Brunswick, but it was up two places from last year at 33rd out of 46 schools. While it has decent scores in its moving on rate in Grades 9 through 11 — a count of the number of students who move from one grade to the next — it scored an F at the Grade 12 level. It was actually ranked last among all the ranked schools for the number of students who graduate at the end of their Grade 12 year.
There is no measure to indicate how many of those students who did not graduate may have stayed on to complete their studies and graduate in a subsequent year.
The school also did poorly when it came to the number of students who are enrolled in post-secondary preparation courses, but those students who do move on to post-secondary studies tend to do well. Harrison Trimble grads ranked 13th in post-secondary achievement.
If there is one thing the AIMS rankings show, it is that there is no excuse for a school not performing well.
Upper Miramichi Regional High School, which was the top ranked school last year and is in seventh place this year, has the worst socioeconomic status of all the ranked schools.
Other top ranked schools have teachers with a lower than average level of education or have students coming in with low levels of achievement.
Caledonia Regional School is a good example of a school doing well with the cards it’s been dealt.
Caledonia was ranked 25th overall, the second-lowest of all District 2 schools, however, it received a B-, the same letter grade as five other schools in the district, who were ranked from eighth to 24th.
Last year it was ranked 42nd, so 25th is a huge leap forward.
Out of 50 English-language schools, it was 37th in terms of the socioeconomic status of its students, and the performance of its feeder schools was ranked 44th out of 50.
But it received an A- for its Grade 12 graduation rate and a B- for the post-secondary achievement rate of its graduates.
J.M.A. Armstrong/Salisbury Middle School also made a decent climb in the rankings — from 18th to eighth — to become the district’s second highest ranked school. It scored an A- for its students’ post-secondary achievement, but an F on the number of students who took post-secondary math preparation courses.
Bernice MacNaughton High School made its way to 20th place from 29th last year and was the district’s third highest ranked school. It saw its overall grade go from a C to a B- with strong showings in the number of students moving from grade to grade, the number of students taking post-secondary preparation courses and its students’ post-secondary achievement.
Riverview High School, on the other hand, tumbled in the rankings, from eighth last year to 21st, though most of its scores were in the B range.
O’Keefe says when the overall grade is calculated, AIMS takes into account not only a school’s actual by-the-numbers ranking compared to other schools, but also gives it an “in context” grade, which ranks its performance based on how well that particular school is expected to perform.
Riverview High’s performance, for example, gets a B and puts it 13th overall in absolute terms, but its in context ranking is 32nd with a B-.
Bernice MacNaughton is 11th overall with a B, but its in context ranking is 34th with a C .
On the flip side Caledonia’s absolute ranking puts it 30th with a C , while its in context ranking is 17th with a B-. The combination of the two provides the overall final ranking.
O’Keefe says big shifts in the rankings from year to year are not uncommon among New Brunswick English-language schools because they only have one measure of academic achievement available — students’ performance in post-secondary institutions.
The province scrapped provincial high school exams in the English-language system several years ago and school marks are not available.
The French-language system has both provincial exam marks and some school marks, providing a better picture of student achievement.
“(Because there) is only the one measure of achievement, it does get some additional weight,” O’Keefe says.
So when a school sees a significant improvement — or a a significant drop — in its students’ success at college or university, it can quickly move up or slip down the list.
It’s one of the reasons AIMS would like to see the province return to offering provincial exams, as it would better reflect how well schools are doing.
Another of the changes AIMS advocates for is offering parents and students a choice of schools, something that currently does not exist in Atlantic Canada. But O’Keefe says New Brunswick students are in a slightly better position because of the French and English-language school systems.
He says the choice available to some students to pick one system or the other pushes schools to be the best they can be in order to attract and retain students. He says Samuel-de-Champlain is a good example because of the prevalence of English-language schools in Saint John.
LeBlanc says she’d have to agree with O’Keefe on that point.
“In order to retain our students we have to be better and everybody knows that,” she says. “Teachers and staff and principals strive to make their school a better choice.”
LeBlanc says the larger English-language schools in Saint John can provide opportunities the K-12 Samuel-de-Champlain cannot.
“But still the parents view their school as a very good school,” she says, because they have worked hard on other aspects of the school, like creating a strong school culture and a sense of belonging among students.
“I believe all schools in a minority setting have that mission,” she says. “I just came out of a meeting with all the superintendents of francophone schools throughout Canada and that comes out — we need to be better to be a better choice.”