Manitoba may publish test score results by school: education minister

Manitoba may reveal which schools' students are performing better on provincial standardized tests, and the only thing preventing the education minister from making it public is a persuasive argument.

Future disclosure comes as province releases results by school division for first time in 20 years

Education minister Kelvin Goertzen said he'd need a compelling argument to keep a school-by-school breakdown of standardized test scores private. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Manitoba may reveal which schools' students are performing better on provincial standardized tests, and the only thing preventing the education minister from making it public is a persuasive argument.

"I'm not convinced today that it's not the right thing to do," Kelvin Goertzen said. "I'm just not convinced today is the right time to do it."

On Thursday, the province announced Grade 12 provincial test scores would be broken down by school division, after two decades in which only the provincial average was made public.

Goertzen said he didn't see the logic in keeping the divisional breakdown confidential when the province must improve its faltering test scores. 

"You don't drive accountability without seeing where things are going well, where they're not going well," Goertzen said.

The divisional results are now available on the provincial website.

Test scores worst in Canada

The province's move comes as Manitoba faces pressure to boost sagging test scores.

2018 report from the Council of Ministers of Education said Manitoba's Grade 8 students improved their scores in reading, science and math over 2010 and 2013, but still had the lowest scores in the country. 

The practice of releasing Grade 12 test scores by division was stopped in 1999 when the then NDP government decided to disclose the results at a provincial level instead, the government said Thursday.

The province began to break down the numbers by region, gender and Indigenous identity in 2016, before starting to categorize them by school division this month. 

Sharing 'valuable information with parents': Goertzen

"We want to return to a practice that should have never ended and share this valuable information with parents," Goertzen said in a media release.

Grade 12 students take provincial examinations in English, French and math courses.

Goertzen said the assessment results will provide insight for the kindergarten-to-Grade-12 education review the province will introduce in early 2019.

Discussions surrounding that audit will inform whether test results should be shared at a school-by-school level.

Goertzen said he has held back those statistics thus far because he thought it would encourage comparison between schools when he wants this initial act to be seen as an act of transparency.

He may be inclined to release more, however.

"I almost start from the perspective of, 'Tell me why we shouldn't release things, because my default position on this is people should have the right to know," said Goertzen, who added he intends to make student absentee rates public in the future.

"If you have a compelling reason why that should remain hidden, I'm open to hearing it, but I think you'll have to convince me." 

Divisive approach, NDP says

NDP education critic Matt Wiebe said while the divisional data benefits school divisions, trustees and teachers, it only serves to divide school divisions and families if it's made public. 

"This is interesting, the day after new school boards were elected across the province that this minister wants to pit school divisions against one another," he said. "This is just a preview of what's to come, where the minister wants to take some of the control out of the local school boards and out of the school division hands."

In Winnipeg, students in the city's largest school division had an average score of 70.7 per cent in pre-calculus mathematics, which exceeds the provincial 68 per cent average, and a 64.6 per cent average in English language arts, which is lower than the 67.8 per cent score province-wide.

In response to the province's decision, the Manitoba Teachers' Society said it is teachers, not tests, which are best qualified to measure student success. 

Kevin Lamoureux argues standardized testing is not the only mechanism the province should be using to measure success. (Twitter)

The province shouldn't overestimate the value of these tests, argues Kevin Lamoureux, an instructor at a University of Winnipeg off-campus program supporting non-traditional students.

He said the standardized evaluations don't evaluate other depictions of success, such as social or financial.

"We need to be cautious about what these scores represent."

With files from Samantha Samson


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