Area schools don’t measure up, in Fr. Institute ranking

Information isn’t helpful, says HPSD Superintendent

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

For what it’s worth, the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of schools in Alberta is out. In the opinion of most school administrator types, it isn’t worth much. One of those is Laura Poloz of the High Prairie School Division.

“I really don’t put much credence in it,” she says. “It’s a very limited report that does nobody any good at all.”

What the Fraser Institute does take into account is various standardized test scores. Schools that do better rank higher and so on. That’s about all there is to it.

So why do HPSD (and most other northern, rural schools) rank so low? Because their students’ test scores are generally lower than those of many or most of their urban counterparts.

It’s an unhelpful comparison, Poloz says.

“It gives a very narrow picture. Schools are far more complex than what the Fraser Institute is looking at.”

Fair comment, perhaps, but it doesn’t explain why E.W. Pratt School of High Prairie, for example, is declining in rank over the past five years or so.

Or, for that matter why the ranking of Roland Michener School of Slave Lake has edged up slightly (but is still pretty low, provincially) in recent years.

Of the high schools in this area, Edwin Parr of Athabasca and Slave Lake’s Michener both improved in rank in 2017. They were tied for 214th out of the 274 schools ranked in the province in the 2016 FI report. St. Andrew’s of High Prairie came in at 261st, with Kinuso School at 265th and EW Pratt at 266th. Pratt’s five-year average ranking was 235th.

The report covering the 2017 year for high schools – which followed the elementary school report by a couple of months – shows Roland Michener with a marked improvement – going from 214th to 150th in the province, with an overall rating of 5.8 (out of 10), up from 2016’s 4.7. Pratt, on the other hand, is going in the opposite direction as far as its rating out of 10 goes. It dropped from the already-dismal 2.2 in the 2017 report to 0.8 in the new rankings, although its ranking was about the same, sitting at 257th out of 262 ranked schools. Kinuso and St. Andrew’s were not ranked this year, joining several other schools in the area being overlooked by the Fraser Institute. No St. Francis Catholic Academy of Slave Lake; no Mistassiniy School of Wabasca. No Smith School either.

Asked about that, Angela McLeod of the Fraser Institute said the most common reason is a lack of data. The small size of a school can result in this lack of information, she added. The exclusion of a school from the rankings, “should not be interpreted as either a positive or a negative.”

A separate ranking of elementary schools sees similarly low results for area schools in the provincial rankings, with the exception of Dapp School. It ranks 166th out of the 790 ranked in the province. St. Theresa in Wabasca is near the bottom of the heap, with a 765th-place ranking. High Prairie Elementary checks in at 736th; Kinuso at 765th. None of Slave Lake’s elementary schools were ranked.

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