Ranking Schools in Quebec’s Multi-Tiered Education System

By Jim Wilson

A headline dealing with school league table recently published by the Fraser Institute could easily read that “Results again confirm a serious division in Quebec society”

Schools occupying the top spots do so by utilizing an exclusion policy based on an entrance examination. The strong students are given priority and the weaker are excluded, otherwise, why have an entry exam? By selecting the more academically able, those schools, overwhelmingly in the private sector, virtually guarantee that their students will obtain high grades on provincial examinations .It is not the school, nor the teachers, but the selection process that mostly shapes this outcome. Regardless of intellect, children from lower income families would find it difficult to find funds for private schools

Provincial examination results are the base from which these league tables are derived, but their statistical validity is questionable, the most glaring error is the omission of dropout rates. After all; dropouts do not write exams so the dropouts do not fit in the statistical compilation Schools in the more deprived areas fare poorly in the rankings, but if dropout rates were incorporated into the statistics the educational chasm between rich and poor students could be even wider.

Another issue is the differential in the grades for subjects marked by the schools themselves, namely mother tongue and second language. Compare those with an external verification, such as Science, Maths and History. .Second language results are laughable. Although most English schools adopt significant immersion programs, past provincial results suggest that French students, without immersion, have a success rate of 95% in second language and outperform their English counterparts who score 91%. That flies in the face of educational logic. One wonders if success rates are so high, why was their a need to ‘reform’ the curriculum?

It seems when 95% of students pass English Language Arts, it follows that we must have produced an extraordinary literate group. Ironically, teachers of History, Science and even Maths note that it is a lack reading comprehension as being a root cause for the failure rate in those subjects. Science and Maths scores are 10% to 20% lower than the language rates, probably reflecting a more objective and rigorous grading system..

Unfortunately, these league tables are little more than an indictment of Quebec’s educational and political practices. This province has two solitudes, divided not by language, but by economic situation. Income seems as much a predictor as intellect in determining an educational outcome. In no other jurisdiction is it possible to find social divisions exacerbated by a government which provides public funds to subsidize an exclusive private system, whilst hypocritically supporting inclusion for the majority of its public sector schools.

This is not to say that only private schools have high academic achievement. The public system has some notable successes. Under the guise of terms, such as enriched or international programs, certain classes have very high academic performers, who as groups, would match or exceed the levels reached by highly ranked schools. Nonetheless, alongside their academic high flyers, there are classes in the same school crowded with students with academic and behavioral problems. In the ‘league’ standing, each school has all its classes judged as one entity, not as several.

If we are to have a ranking system at all, it must be overhauled. The publication of school rankings deduced by crude collation of provincial marks is counter productive and easily predicted. A school must be measured by the manner it develops all the students who attend. That can only be accomplished by external evaluators. Sophisticated analyses, utilized in countries such as Britain, measure the “value added” quality of each school, and can factor in the students’ economic, linguistic, and ethnic background as components to be considered in rating a schools performance. That will require a good deal more than the Fraser Institute has done with its facile table.

The real yardstick is the schools impact on the development of each child. In Quebec, all grade 6 students are given standardized tests, therefore on entering secondary level, the literacy and numeracy ability of each student is known. If a student improves from let’s say, a 50%, average to a 60%, is that not more noteworthy than a student who simply maintains a 80% average? The Institute is unable to provide that important statistic. Maybe we should call to an end the masquerade of publicizing educational statistics that seemingly applaud self fulfilling prophecies of success based on exclusion and income. We may also wonder about the motivation of the Fraser Institute itself, with its annual ritual of repeating the obvious. Most of all, if these results are a problem, we must ask what is the government’s solution?

This article originally appeared in the Suburban in 2008

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: