If eyebrows were raised around the province when Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School placed at the top of Fraser Institute rankings earlier this month, principal Merrill Palmer’s weren’t among them.
Each year the right-wing think tank analyzes the performance of students in B.C. schools, with provincial testing of fourth and seventh grade students being used to evaluate school performance.
Bountiful’s strong showing might be a surprise to its critics, but not to Palmer.
“I’m not sure what criteria the Fraser Institute utilizes to determine how a school qualifies to be a part of the ranking process’ Palmer said. “As good as our results were this year, I believe we performed equally well, if not better, in the previous two years.
“In my opinion, our high ranking is a result of a conscious effort on the part of dedicated teachers to ensure students meet the desired learning outcomes in time for the dates of FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) administration. This requires a real increase in the work ethic of the students, an understanding of the exam format and procedure by the teachers and oftentimes, an overhaul of the curriculum to offer more appropriate resources.”
Palmer said that his teachers have responded to test results from several years ago, which were “unacceptable, bordering on abysmal, with less than 50 per cent of the students meeting the required learning expectations.”
Bountiful school took a positive approach to the testing, he said.
“Rather than doing as Susan Lambert (president of the BC Teachers’ Federation) suggests, and blame the exams, we took full responsibility and looked at ourselves and the effectiveness of the programs and techniques we employed,” he said. “It took a lot of professional development, persistent work and some trial and error to ultimately arrive where we were satisfied with the direction we were headed.”
The shift in student success in the exams, Palmer said, is the result of a combined effort by teachers, students and parents.
“We aim for 100 per cent participation. We do not send letters home inviting parents to boycott the exams, but rather, we involve parents in the process rather than badmouthing the exams.
“How on earth can the students expect to perform well when a teacher who is supervising the administration of the exams tells the students — or gives the students the perception — that these exams are a waste of time? Sure, the exams are not intended to measure teacher competence, but you are not going to have positive results with an incompetent teacher. And an incompetent teacher is one who refuses to act in the best interest of his/her students by analyzing exam results and acting accordingly.”
Palmer rejects suggestions that the test results don’t provide an accurate picture of the quality of education provided at Bountiful.
“It is ludicrous, unfair and hypocritical for some to suggest that our results are doctored or manipulated in any way, and are not an accurate reflection of student performance. Performing well in grades 4 and 7 is indicative that the grades preceding and following are also achieving successes. Our provincial exam results speak for themselves in grades 10, 11 and 12. We consistently exceed provincial averages. These results are posted on our Bountiful school website.”
The veteran school principal also addressed an apparent discrepancy in his school’s graduation rate.
“We have a good percentage of graduates, contrary to what the ministry and the BCTF state. We offer an accelerated graduation program which enables qualifying students to complete grades 10, 11 and 12 in only two years. Because of this, it appears that many of our Grade 11 students drop out, when in reality they completed the 2004 graduation program in only two years by taking weekend, after school and other extra curricular classes. Because our school is classified as a group 3 school in grades 11 and 12, the ministry has determined they have not graduated. However, since 2004, we have graduated 49 students and none of them has ever been refused entry in a post secondary institution because they lack the ‘coveted’ dogwood.”
Why did the high ranking of Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School by the Fraser Institute make news across the province?
“For years we have consistently out-performed many of the schools in the province in terms of examination results, but the media, special interest groups and the Ministry of Education have been too consumed with negativity to laud our positive results. Five years ago, the inspector of independent schools informed us that simply meeting the province’s educational standards was not sufficient, but rather, she stated, that our school must exceed those standards. We have taken that challenge, adjusted study methods and curriculum and increased work ethic and slowly the results of this hard work have come to fruition as witnessed in today’s rankings. However, we still have room for improvement.
“Unfortunately, the battle cry for the abandonment of the FSAs will certainly intensify and gain momentum now as the naysayers will be convinced of the ineffectiveness of these exams in that students from our school performed so admirably.
“While the rest of the province is surprised and intrigued at our results, we are not.”