'They're not objective at all': educator disputes Fraser Institute's B.C. school rankings

The Fraser Institute has released its rankings for schools in B.C. — but one educator has criticized them as misleading.

Think tank says rankings are based on objective, measurable criteria

Vancouver's York House, an independent school on the West Side, ranked first in the Fraser Institute's rankings of secondary schools in B.C. (York House/Facebook)

The Fraser Institute has released its rankings for elementaryschools in B.C. — but one educator has criticized them as misleading.

This is the 16th year of the think tank's list, which ranks hundreds of schools from across B.C., based on grades from the province's standardized tests on reading, writing and math. 

"Parents have a real opportunity here by having access to these data," said Peter Cowley, co-author of the report. 

This year, 21 schools tied for top elementary in B.C. 

Most of the schools in the top 20 are either independent or based in Metro Vancouver's wealthier neighbourhoods — which some educators say points to an obvious bias. 

"They're not objective at all," said Jason Price, a professor at the University of Victoria's Curriculum and Instruction Department. 

"For me, the problem becomes that they recognize such a narrow data collection."

'These tests give us such a narrow picture'

Price says that only relying on standardized tests in limited subjects doesn't capture the full range of desirable educational outcomes. 

He says schools in B.C., especially at the secondary level, have different focuses and strengths — some may choose to concentrate on academic programs, while others may centre on apprenticeships and trades. 

"These tests give us such a narrow picture in terms of what's being done in schools," he said.

The Fraser Institute's secondary school ratings have yet to be released but will be shortly.

Price also noted that schools in different districts have a diverse community of learners with different needs. 

But Cowley says the Fraser Institute focuses on the test results because it's the only objective and measurable data that can be used. 

"If you can compare [the schools] at least on the basis of this academic performance, you can make a more informed decision," he said.

'Figure out what you're going to do'

Cowley says that all schools, regardless of whether they're private or public, should have strong outcomes in these subjects. 

"Don't criticize the report card for telling the truth, figure out what you're going to do to improve the result," he said.

Private, technically known as independent, schools in B.C. are over-represented in the top rankings, Crowley says, because if they didn't have good results in these subjects they would go out of business. 

But Price says the Fraser Institute is "cherry-picking" from a vast array of data on learning outcomes, which can't be easily gathered or compared. 

"It's imposing an equation on to something that is so complex," he said. 

The fallout of the rankings, according to Price, is lower morale among the parents, students and educators at some schools, as well as a decreased ability to raise funds.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated secondary schools were included in the report and that Cedardale in West Vancouver, Crofton House in Vancouver and Diamond in Surrey placed first, second and third in the list of top elementary schools, respectively. In fact, 21 elementary schools are tied for first place in the Fraser Institute report and secondary school results have yet to be released.
    Apr 23, 2018 11:35 AM PT

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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