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Tuesday 1 May 2012

Globe & Mail: Fraser Institute flunks on grading high schools

Globe and Mail
Gary Mason

May 1, 2012

The teachers at Hazelton Secondary quit worrying about the Fraser Institute’s rankings of B.C. high schools a long time ago.

When the conservative think tank started publishing its report card on B.C. schools years ago, teachers there used to do a slow burn. The schools at the top were always private institutions or public ones on the west side of Vancouver that had a wealth of resources most other schools could only dream of having.

The schools at the bottom of the rankings were always ones like theirs, in mostly aboriginal communities.

Years later and little has changed with the ratings.

It’s easy to understand why the Fraser Institute’s grading system infuriates so many people. Comparing schools like Hazelton to a private college or a high school from any of the dozens and dozens of affluent neighbourhoods in the province that has none of their problems is absurd.

The top-ranked high school in B.C. for the second year in a row is York House, an all-girls academy on Vancouver’s west side. The Fraser Institute’s ratings are based on a range of indicators. For instance, according to the report, the percentage of students at York House who failed a provincial exam in 2010-11 was zero. The graduation rate at the school for the year measured was 100 per cent.

In recent years, the report added a new rating, one based on the average parental-employment income in each student’s family. A positive number, according to the report, suggests that the school is effective in enabling its students to succeed regardless of their family’s characteristics.

York House got a positive score of 2.0, based on an average family income of $118,000.

Let’s compare that to Hazelton Secondary, located in northwestern B.C.

Hazelton finished 278th out of 280 high schools ranked. But then, it’s always near the bottom. About 35 per cent of its students failed provincial exams. According to the Fraser Institute, even when you factor in the family background of the students at the school, it still does poorly. It received a mark of minus 4.1 based on an average parental income of $33,400.

What that suggests to me is that even when the impoverished backgrounds of the Hazelton students are factored in, the school is still underperforming.

What an insult that is to the teachers there, who have among the hardest jobs in the province.

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