Making the Alberta elementary school report card easier to use

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Appeared in the Calgary Herald
There is a lot of information in the Fraser Institute’s Report Card on Alberta’s Elementary Schools and sometimes it’s tough to know how to take full advantage of it.

So, here in five easy steps, is my recipe for getting the most out of the report card without taking a week to study it. Start by finding the detailed results table for the school in which you are interested either in this newspaper or on the Fraser Institute website.

First, find the Overall ratings out of 10 on the bottom line of the school’s results table. For most schools, there are ratings for several school years.

Each Overall rating combines the test results reported above it to answer the question, In general, how is the school doing academically? The Overall rating is a relative measure. This means that it shows how the school is doing compared with all the others in the report card. If School A has an Overall rating of 10, it doesn’t mean it is perfect. It simply means that no other school did substantially better than School A in that particular year.

A rating of 0 means that the school did worse than all other schools in the report card. The average rating for all schools is about six. By scanning the whole row of Overall ratings, you can quickly determine the school’s general level of academic performance.

Second, although there is usually some variation from year to year in a school’s results, it may not be obvious if the variation means anything. The Trend indicator -- in the last column on the right hand side of the table -- analyzes this variation statistically. It lets you know whether the school’s academic performance has changed over the last five years.

An upward pointing arrow means that there has likely been real improvement. A downward arrow means that we are pretty certain that academic results have declined. A dash indicates that there as been no significant change in academic results. An n/a in this position (or anywhere else in the table) means that sufficient data were not available.

Third, using the Overall rating and the Trend indicator you can make a better judgment of how the school might do in future.

For example, if a school’s Overall rating has been pretty steady around 7 out of 10 and the Trend indicator is showing a dash, then you might expect that same level of achievement in the next few years. On the other hand, if the Trend indicator is showing improvement, it’s probably more likely that the school’s average level of achievement will in future be higher than it was in the past.

You can use these two indicators as the basis for discussions with the school’s principal about its improvement plans.

Fourth, now that you have a good idea how the school has been performing and where it might be headed, you might want to spend some time looking at the more detailed data. Each of the report cards’ seven indicators of academic performance focuses on a different aspect of achievement. The Tests not written indicator tells you if the school takes the provincial testing program seriously. The two three-year value added indicators estimate the contribution that the school makes to its students’ success. Finally, the four contextual indicators (ESL, Special needs, Alt. French, and Parents’ average education) provide some information on the background of each school’s students.

All these indicators can help you get to know the school better and may also suggest areas in which the school can improve. You can also use these indicators in the next and final step.

Fifth, the information in the detailed tables will help you to more effectively compare schools. Parents compare schools when they are choosing one for their kids. Comparisons among schools are made simpler and more meaningful by the Report Cards’ indicators and ratings.

I hope you find the Report Card useful. If you have any suggestions about how it could be improved, please send e-mail to [email protected].

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