Response to Fraser Institute School Ranking

So, the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think-tank which admits that they are not “educational professionals”, releases a ranking of schools based on a flawed analysis of a flawed test. A test which the provincial government states should not be used for school rankings. While this is not really surprising, what is suprising is that the Ottawa Citizen should dedicate a whole section to the rankings.

If you go to the Education Quality and Accountability Office’s web site ( http://www.eqao.com ), you will see detailed analysis by the educational experts who run the standardized test. And they conclude that household income, how many times the kids have moved schools, parent’s education level and gender are much more significant indicators of performance than the quality of the teaching.

Let’s look a little bit at the Alternative Schools that were given their own analysis by the Citizen.

 

    • Judging schools based on test scores is only valid if the children in those schools are blindly selected. But Alternative schools are choice programs. Was any account taken of gender ratios in Alternative schools, given that boys tend to fair less well in the early grades? Compounding this, Alternative Schools have had a reputation (for better or worse) for being well suited to children with high energy levels; these types of children do not fair well on prolonged seat-based tests.

 

    • Alternative schools reject standardized testing and so teachers do not teach to the test as they do at other schools.

 

    • Children in Alternative schools are encouraged to work in groups and ask questions, both of which are not supported by the EQAO tests. The testing environment is therefore very foreign.

 

    • Most schools has grade three and grade six class sizes that are too small to be statistically meaningful. These small sample sizes explain why one school can have its overall score drop from 7.1 one year to 3.7 the next.

 

    • Many parents at Alternative schools choose to pull their children out of the EQAO testing, thereby further skewing the results. Some Alternative schools had 49% of their kids not write the test, making their test sample size even more statistically meaningless. Furthermore, the families that could pull their children out tend to be of the higher economic bracket, which is an indicator for better test results.

 

    • The EQAO tests do not measure group skills, intrinsic motivation or other attributes values by Alternative education.

 

    • Many educators and research groups have analyzed and criticized the whole standardized testing push ( http://schoolsweneed.oise.utoronto.ca/five_reasons.pdf
      , http://www.alfiekohn.org/standards/standards.htm ).

 

    • Alternative schools offer a different learning environment suited for certain children. It is not about which program is better, but about the needs of certain children. Ranking schools does not address individual needs of children but rather the anxiety of their parents. Surprisingly, it seems the Fraser Institute thinks choice should be more about parents wants than about children’s needs.

 

    • We have to wonder what it is about group-work, parental involvement and other alternative aspects that are now being emulated and championed at main-stream schools, that the Fraser Institute authors think is damaging?

 

Any judgment of a program based on an unscientific analysis of a flawed testing program is suspect. To use that to attack a mature, well-researched, emulated program suited to certain learning styles and champion a one-size-fits-all, assembly-line attitude to education is a real disservice to the children who have been in other programs and have found the Alternative Program so much more beneficial. Not better, but the best choice for some children.

I don’t mind the Citizen reporting on the Fraser Institute’s study. Openness and divergent ideas are good. But a whole sectiondedicated to the detailed rankings, listed school by school, when that information is available on the institute’s web site? Let’s have a little balance here. How about some stories about the incredible successes teachers pull off every day, in often challenging and heart-breaking situations? Instead I guess I can look forward to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education writing a report on Fiscal policy — and the Citizen giving that report its own section.