February 2, 2014
TORONTO, ON—Despite economic and personal challenges, students can learn and succeed in some schools, and despite similar student characteristics, some schools thrive while others struggle, finds the Fraser Institute’s annual school rankings.The Report Card on Ontario’s Elementary Schools 2014 ranks 3,030 anglophone and francophone public and Catholic schools (and a small number of private schools) based on nine academic indicators from results of the annual provincewide reading, writing and math tests managed by the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).“By pinpointing the subject areas where individual schools improve or decline, and by demonstrating how a school’s academic performance compares to other Ontario schools, our report helps educators help kids be more successful in the classroom,” said Peter Cowley, Fraser Institute director of school performance studies.The Report Card includes information about each school’s make-up including the average parental income, the percentage of ESL students and the percentage of special needs students. These factors are often perceived as barriers to learning. However, as illustrated in the Report Card, schools can ensure student success despite these perceived barriers.Schools with many special needs kids can do wellStudents with special needs account for more than 50 per cent of the school’s Grade 6 enrollment at 70 of the 3,030 ranked schools. At Laggan Public School, a K-6 school in Dalkeith, a rural community in eastern Ontario, 51.7 per cent of the Grade 6 students are special needs, yet the school posted an overall rating of 8.2 out of 10, tops among all schools with a 50 per cent or higher Grade 6 special needs population. What makes Laggan so successful?Schools with modest family income can do wellDespite an average parental income of $19,800, one of the lowest parental incomes of all 3,030 schools, Langton Public School in rural Fenelon Falls posted an overall rating of 6.6 and a five-year average rating of 7.1.Schools with a large number of ESL students can do wellAt Randall Public School in Markham, English is the second language for 87.3 per cent of the Grade 6 students. Nevertheless, the school posted an overall rating of 8.7 this year (2.7 points above the all-schools average) and a five-year average rating of 8.0, which puts Randall in the top seven per cent of schools overall.“Whatever a school’s student make-up, whether there are lots of ESL or special needs kids, or the students come from families of modest means, schools can always improve student academic performance and perform very well,” Cowley said.Same small town, dramatically different rankingsDespite similar student characteristics, some schools thrive while others struggle. For example, Wheatley, a small community (pop. 2,925) near Lake Erie, has two public elementary schools—Wheatley Area and East Mersea.While the two schools operate under different school boards (Wheatley Area under the Lambton Kent District School Board, East Mersea under the Greater Essex County District School Board) they serve students with similar personal and family characteristics.At Wheatley Area, 24.1 per cent of the Grade 6 students are special needs, 3.4 per cent are ESL, and the average combined parental income is $101,400.At East Mersea, 16.7 per cent of the Grade 6 student population is special needs, 5.6 per cent are ESL, and the average combined parental income is $91,100.However, according to the Report Card, Wheatley Area posts a substantially higher overall rating (6.8) compared to East Mersea (3.9). Moreover, the schools five-year average ratings—Wheatley Area (6.5), East Mersea (3.5)—show that despite similar student characteristics, Wheatley Area consistently out-performs East Mersea academically.“This is why the Fraser Institute Report Card is the go-to source for measuring academic performance. Parents of East Mersea students should ask the principal why their school consistently lags far behind Wheatley Area. And educators at East Mersea should talk to their colleagues at Wheatley Area, to discuss teaching practices,” Cowley said.