Fraser report raises questions on provincewide testing

OttawaSun.com – news/Ontario
March 04, 2012,   Terry Davidson, QMI Agency – Toronto

The release of the Fraser Institute’s annual report card has sparked controversy over how much weight should be assigned to Ontario’s provincewide testing.

Fraser’s report card ranked elementary schools on the basis of how well students performed on annual standardized reading, writing and math tests.

Critics of Fraser’s rankings see them as a “narrow” snapshot of a school’s performance.

They charge the effort is unfair to under-performing schools, such as Toronto’s Regent/Park Duke of York, which scored an overall rating of 1.7 out of 10 but is located in an area of the city known for crime and poverty.

Those at the Fraser Institute see the rankings as a tool parents and school boards can use to see how schools stack up when it comes to their delivery of core academic subjects.

Chris Spence, director of education for the Toronto District School Board, calls Fraser’s rankings too narrow, and “not helpful” when it comes to getting an accurate look at the quality of a school.

“By not providing (context), you allow the public to make a judgment about the quality of a school without knowing enough about the school,” Spence said. “There are more (things involved) than EQAO scores… Are the parents involved? Is it a safe and welcoming environment?”

The Fraser Institute published its annual rankings for elementary schools in Alberta on Feb. 26. Alberta Education Minister Thomas Luaszuk — a long-standing critic of the Fraser report cards — says standardized testing is in place to measure only a “narrow aspect” of what goes on in schools and should not be used as a way to rank them.

“This test has been designed to measure a narrow aspect of our curriculum,” argued Lukaszuk.He is currently planning “comprehensive packages” that will one day come with Alberta’s test results in hopes of luring parents away from Fraser’s report card.

Additional data would include things such as graduation rates and the rate of parental involvement at a school.

“When children learn, they do more than take in information and regurgitate it,” he said. “How is a child processing information? How are they growing emotionally? How are they developing from an artistic standpoint?”

Those at Fraser see it differently.

While it is true the report card does not look at the socio-economic environment of a school, save for parents’ annual income, it does provide a focused look at how the school is delivering academics, said Fraser Institute associate director Michael Thomas.

“It doesn’t tell you if it’s a good school or a bad school, these are judgments parents have to make. The point of the report is how well (a school) delivers its program in academic areas.”

Thomas argues that “hardships” outside of a school — such as poverty or a community with a large number of single parents — are not necessarily determinants of academic failure or success.

Of the 2,695 schools ranked in Fraser’s Ontario report card, Thomas said 21% achieved ratings above the provincial average despite having an average family income falling bellow the provincial average — at times as much as $30,000 below.

“Parents deserve to know why a school is performing the way it is,” insists Thomas, adding that it is also “important among schools to know if something happened at a school that caused the marks to go up or down.”

Ontario Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod calls results from standardized testing a necessary “measuring” that school boards can use to see which of their schools need assistance.

Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten was unavailable for comment.

Ontario’s elementary and secondary school boards will receive $21 billion in funding this school year, according to Ontario’s education ministry. Of that, almost half will go to boards in the Greater Toronto Area.

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