Principals react to FSA report cards

Bulkley Valley principals weigh in on the report cards on elementary schools.

  • Feb. 18, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Houston’s Twain Sullivan is the Bulkley Valley School District’s topped ranked elementary school, according to the Fraser Institute’s 2012 school rankings.

Twain Sullivan placed 81 out of 860 schools in B.C.

St. Joseph’s school in Smithers was second for the district and ranked 122 in B.C.

Muheim Memorial placed 158 in B.C., while Telkwa placed 235, and Walnut Park placed 380.

Silverthorne in Houston placed 538.

New Hazelton Elementary placed fifth in the Coast Mountains School District rankings at 849th place.

That district’s top ranked school was Veritas in Terrace at 90th.

The Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank with offices in Vancouver, bases its ranking of B.C. elementary schools on Foundation Skills Assessments—province-wide tests of reading, writing and numeracy that are given to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students.

St. Joseph’s Principal Susan Forbrigger said that the results of the FSAs can be useful for a school to measure its own success but falls short in its efforts to compare schools to each other.

“We know where our students work hard and it’s nice that they did well,” said Forbrigger.

She said she’s happy with the results overall.

That said, she doesn’t enjoy the competitive aspect of the report cards.

“They’re helpful for us as a staff to know things to focus on to teach but to grade school against school they’re not too helpful,” she said.

St. Joseph’s has a staff of 24, which includes teachers and support staff.

The Fraser Institute also included a list of the 20 fastest improving schools and said that Muheim was on that list.

Muheim Principal Kevin Bird said that it is a major accomplishment to have two schools from a small district (Twain Sullivan also made the most improved list) recognized for improvement.

He also notes that School District 54 elementary schools are, by this report, performing above the provincial average.

In talking about what Muheim does that has made the improvement happen, he said there are five things they do: a structured, straightforward improvement plan for learning; a school district making wise financial choices; a staff who are willing and able; a supportive and creative Parent Advisory Council; and a community which supports learning.

Bird said that last item is the most important to them and the school has enjoyed enormous community support.

The controversy of the report cards didn’t escape Bird’s commentary.

“First it is important to say that we do find it distasteful to rank schools against each other,” he wrote in an e-mail to the paper. “There are too many variables which render these rankings not only useless but also downright deceptive for those who don’t know the methodology behind them.”

That’s why he’s more keen to focus on their performance against the provincial average.

He notes that Muheim, at a time, was in the bottom 10 per cent for schools but have recently been out-performing 75 per cent of schools in the province.

Similar trends are seen in other schools, he said, which “means that the entire district has demonstrated improvement and in some schools this improvement has been substantial.”

Of course at the core of this all is the students.

“We also have to make sure we acknowledge the students too. At the end of the day we can offer the best teaching and cool learning opportunities but it is the students’ commitment to themselves and our school that has helped us turnabout in such dramatic fashion.”