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article imageOntario annual school rankings throws up some surprises

By Tim Sandle     Feb 2, 2014 in Lifestyle
Toronto - Despite perceived barriers to academic success, students can thrive in the classroom, finds the Fraser Institute’s annual school rankings of schools in Ontario. The 2014 report has produced some interesting results in relation to parental income.
The Fraser Institute is an independent non-partisan research and educational organization based in Canada. The organization runs several inquiries into education and health. The basis of the body is that, in order to improve public institutions such as schools and hospitals, their performance needs to be measured.
The Fraser Institute 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 province wide reading, writing and math tests managed by the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO).
The Report Card includes information about each school’s make-up. The 2014 analysis shows that some schools help students overcome perceived barriers to academic success such as relatively low parental income, or relatively high percentages of special needs students.
According to the Toronto Sun, there are 188 schools across the province in this year’s Report Card that have shown improvement over five years. Of those schools, the average parental income is $43,300 compared to the average income of $73,000 for the overall report card. The inference is that there is no link between family income and student improvement.
Taking an example, two Toronto District School Board public schools: Duke of Connaught and C.D. Farquharson, which are separated by a half-hour drive on the Don Valley Parkway. At Duke of Connaught, 24.1 per cent of Grade 6 students are special needs, 1.9 are ESL, and the average parental income is $48,400. Whereaas, at C.D. Farquharson, 47.7 per cent of Grade 6 students are special needs, 2.3 are ESL, and the average combined parental income is $36,300.
According to the Report Card, despite higher percentages of Grade 6 ESL and special needs students, and a lower average parental income, the schools five-year average overall ratings — C.D. Farquharson (8.8), Duke of Connaught (4.1) — show that C.D. Farquharson students consistently out-perform those at Duke of Connaught academically.
Other findings from this year's review are:
a) Schools with many special needs kids can do well
The report shows that students 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?
b) Schools with a large number of 'English as a second language' (ESL) students can do well
For example, at 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.
c) Same small town, dramatically different rankings
Despite 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.
Thus the new analysis indicates that a number of factors need to be accounted for in selecting a school and in assessing the performance of that school.
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