Why two North Shore schools ranked so differently in the Fraser Institute’s annual report
Just a 10-minute drive apart, two elementary schools on the North Shore ranked on either end of the spectrum in an annual report by the Fraser Institute.
West Bay Elementary in Dundarave is the only public school in B.C. to receive a perfect 10, while Norgate elementary in Lower Pemberton ranked close to the bottom at 1.9 out of 10.
Why the drastic discrepancy between the schools? It’s a tough question.
First some background information.
The rankings are based on standardized tests in reading, writing and numeracy taken by fourth and seventh grade students. The gender gap in reading and numeracy is also analyzed. These results are tallied to give a grade out of 10.
Now let’s look at some statistics for West Bay and Norgate.
The Fraser Institute looks at facts that could impact students’ learning, such as their parents’ income and the language they use most often at home.
Parents of West Bay elementary students have an average annual household income of $213,100, the second highest in West Vancouver. Norgate elementary parents, on the other hand, have an average income of $56,800, the lowest in North Vancouver.
The Fraser Institute also tracks the number of students categorized as having special needs and having English as a second language. Three per cent of West Bay students are ESL and 2.4 per cent have special needs. These numbers more than double for Norgate, where close to 7 per cent are ESL and 14.2 per cent have special needs.
What does this all mean?
Representatives from the West and North Vancouver school districts both said the rankings don’t give the whole picture of their schools.
A perfect 10 for West Bay based on standardized tests does not take into account, for instance, its arts or sports programs. In the same light, Norgate’s rating of 1.9 doesn’t reflect its unique language classes or important life skills the students learn.
“We don’t pay a lot of attention to the rankings. I don’t think what the Fraser Institute does is helpful,” Chris Kennedy, West Van school district superintendent, told The Outlook. “The FSA (the standardized text used) results are useful in terms of schools for planning, but I think the ranking of schools doesn’t add a lot of value.”
This being said, he is proud of his schools’ high scores, some of which are better than those of top private schools.
“There is a lot of consistency between our schools in West Vancouver,” he continued. “The quality of education, regardless of which school you’re at, is outstanding and solid.”
Besides teaching methods and programs the district offers, he credits preschools and parental support of learning for the school district’s high marks.
Over at Norgate elementary, students’ progress throughout the year is charted on a large poster hanging on the wall.
“We find standardized tests useful, but individual assessments much more useful,” said Norgate’s principal Lisa Upton on a tour of the school.
“Students here come from a diverse community,” she adds, noting around 60 per cent of students are First Nations, mostly from the Squamish Nation. Aboriginal culture is incorporated into the school, from artwork on the walls, to weaving projects for art class and a carving ceremony next month.
Early learning programs like StrongStart, which is operated out of the school, Upton adds, help children prepare for kindergarten.
Norgate’s success as a “community school,” where a sense of belonging is vital, is more important than the rankings which don’t show the whole picture, she said.
Does money matter?
Using a mathematical formula, the Fraser Institute says it can predict how a school will rank based on parental income.
The more money, the better a school will likely do, it says.
Its prediction for West Bay was very close, with just a 0.3 per cent discrepancy.
Norgate’s ranking, on the other hand, should have been higher at 5.8.
Schools in West Van, where the average annual income is higher than North Van, all scored above 8 out of 10. Elementary schools in North Van scored between 1.9 and 9, with many ranking around the 6-point mark.
Click here for the full report. North Shore schools are on Pages 27 and 44.