Thirteen out of 24 Hamilton-Wentworth high schools evaluated in the Fraser Institute's annual Report Card on Ontario's Secondary Schools saw performance levels decline in 2012. (Read the full report.)
The lowest performer in the pack was downtown Hamilton's Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School, which received a 1.9 score out of a possible 10. It ranked 704th in Ontario out of the 725 schools in the Catholic, public and private boards that were part of the report.
But there were some notable performers in the report.
“Westmount has shown continuously high performance and continues to improve,” says the report's author and designer Peter Cowley.
“Mere-Teresa is one the highest improving,” he added, noting that the French-language Catholic high school has gone from a rating of 4.4 to 7.9 in five years.
The Fraser Institute's report card evaluates school performance out of 10. The provincial average, according to Cowley, was 6 out of 10. Twelve of the Hamilton-Wentworth schools evaluated were rated 6.0 and above.
To determine its ratings, the report relies on six factors, all of which are derived from standardized literacy and math skills tests administered by Ontario's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQOA).
“The overall rating out of 10 only suggests academic performance and nothing else,” says Cowley, who adds that the “point and purpose” of the report is to bring together objective criteria to evaluate school performance across the province.
“Academics is the only objective criteria available to measure school results,” he says.
“We don't believe in the rankings of our schools. Rankings tell us nothing about why scores are high or low,” said Jackie Penman, a representative for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board in an email to CBC Hamilton.
“Focusing on rankings tends to distract people from work that improves learning for all students.”
Penman said that while “EQAO test results provide useful information to improve schools' learning programs-for example, school improvement goals on reading, writing or math” she believes “it's unfair and misleading to compare schools based only on these scores. It's just one piece of the whole picture about a school.”
Pat Daley, Chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, says while the report offers valuable information for educators, he also makes the argument that the report doesn't take into account “many other factors that go into a good school”.
Some of those factors include sports, arts programs and extra-curricular activities. In addition, he says a Catholic school also considers how effectively it creates a “Catholic Christian community.”
Cowley agrees with the criticism. And says he'd love to get some objective measurements to add further dimension to the report card.
“Give us the information you have on other measures-objective, comparable, and annually generated [like the EQAO testing] and I'll put them in the report.”
“People denigrate the EQAO, saying it's a small piece of life in school, but it's an important one.”
Moreover, he adds, currently it's the only measurement available. He issues a challenge to educators who talk about the importance of the other factors in evaluating schools.
If you think they're important prove it through testing, he says.
“If you don't measure, you don't improve.”