Why on Earth would anyone want to rank K-12 schools in Canada?
It’s a question I am asked regularly about this time of year as we begin updating our ratings and rankings of British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, Ontario elementary and secondary schools (we’ll release Ontario’s secondary school rankings in late February).
Here’s my answer.
The rankings convert large amounts of student performance data into information that is quick to find and easy to understand. Using this information, both parents and educators make useful comparisons of academic performance among schools.
In 2015, about 1.9 million visitors to our website, www.compareschoolrankings.org, did just that.
The ranking list is itself a tool of comparison, answering the question, “In general, how has this school done in key academic subjects compared to all the other schools in the ranking?”
Parents use the rankings as one source of objective evidence of school performance when choosing a school for their children. Once their kids are already enrolled, parents compare their school’s most recent results with those of past years to see if its ranking is improving or declining. They can also find out how the school’s performance compares to that of other schools in the neighbourhood and around the province.
When results falter, better informed parents make better advocates for school improvement.
Educators find the rankings useful as well. First, like parents, they can quickly check their school’s results to see if it’s improving or declining over time. Second, on our website, they can dig deeper into the data upon which the ratings and rankings are based. They can compare their course-level results over time to those of nearby schools or to schools serving students with similar characteristics to their own. They can see where they stand in the pack and how much room there is to improve.
Indeed, such comparisons provide a solid base upon which to build an improvement plan. Imagine a school’s track coach training students for the 100-metres and being told that she should just tell the kids to run as fast as they can. No stopwatches are to be used and no comparison of current times with personal bests or the times of runners at other schools will be made. Lost—one track coach.
But still, some educators question the rankings’ value and are loud in their criticism. While there are many criticisms leveled at the rankings that simply aren’t valid, there is one with which I agree: the rankings don’t consider how well the schools do on the many other aspects of education beyond the acquisition of basic academic skills.
More on this subject next time.