Whistler down, Howe Sound up in school rankings 

School District doesn't acknowledge controversial Fraser Institute rankings

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The Fraser Institute released its annual ranking of secondary schools in British Columbia on Monday, June 17, with mixed results for schools in Sea to Sky for the 2011-2012 year.

The controversial rankings are based on provincial standardized testing for Grades 10 and 11, graduation rates and other data collected by the Ministry of Education.

Whistler Secondary School's overall rankings declined significantly compared to the last five years, but the school district is not concerned.

Lisa McCullough, superintendent of schools for the Sea to Sky School District, said the board doesn't give any weight to the Fraser Institute's rankings. Nor would she comment on why Whistler Secondary may have dropped.

"First of all, (the rankings) are unethical and secondly, we don't think they're informative in any meaningful way," she said. "The most valid and reliable information that a school can use is that information that is collected by the teacher in the classroom. The better job that a school does at collecting that information and using it to make decisions in changing instruction or goals, the more positively we can affect a child or family or group of students."

Whistler's overall score out of 10 was 6.8 this year, down from 8.0 in 2008. That in turn dropped the school to 88th out of 284 schools across B.C. — in the top third provincially but well back of the previous five-year average ranking of 41st out of 260 schools (top 16 per cent).

The percentage of provincial exams failed was a high 5.7 per cent, which is almost four times the failure rate of the 2011 school year (1.5 per cent). The average exam mark was 71.3, which is 2.7 per cent lower than 2011 and the lowest average in five years.

As well, the school versus exam mark difference — which is the difference between scores on provincial exams and the teacher's marks in courses covered by standardized tests — was 6.8. According to the Fraser Institute, a higher differential suggests that a teacher may be inflating grades, with a provincial average difference of around four per cent.

In comparison, the top-ranked school in the province — York House private school for girls — was ranked 10 out of 10 with average exam marks of 86.7 and a school vs. exam mark difference of 1.7.

But while Whistler's numbers are down in 2012, Howe Sound Secondary in Squamish is on the way up comparatively. The school finished with a 6.4 rating out of 10, which is its highest overall grade in five years. Average exam marks were up to 69.3 from a low of 63.9 in 2008, and the percentage of exams failed dropped to 8.7 from a high of 14.9. The difference between school and exam marks was 5.1 per cent.

The result was a jump in provincial rankings to 117th out of 284 schools, down from an average rank of 191 out of 260 the last five years.

Pemberton Secondary numbers stayed roughly the same. The school's overall grade was 5.3 in 2012, down from 5.4 in 2011 and a high of 6.3 in 2009. The average exam mark was 66.5, with a standardized test failure rate of 12.5 per cent. The school's rank was 197, down from a five-year average of 168.

The Fraser Institute rankings are considered controversial for several reasons, including the focus on standardized testing — something the B.C. Teacher's Federation opposes on the grounds that it forces teachers to focus more on the tests than the curriculum and doesn't adequately take into account things like culture or socioeconomics — or in Whistler's case the number of students focusing on sports or the arts.

Teachers are also opposed to the rankings being published publicly because it makes education competitive.

It's also been pointed out in news coverage that the 2012 numbers may have been skewed by the contract dispute between teachers and the province that resulted in teachers withdrawing additional services such as coaching for extracurricular activities — something that did not impact private schools. Students did not receive formal report cards until the end of the year.

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