STM, Moscrop lead way in local Fraser Institute rankings

Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang -
Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang
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The independent St. Thomas More Collegiate (STM) was the top Burnaby school in this year's Fraser Institute rankings of secondary schools.

For the second year in a row, the Catholic school placed 21st overall out of 293 schools across B.C. with a score of 8.5 out of 10.

The top 20 in the province, led by Vancouver's York House and Crofton House which were tied for first, and Southridge in Surrey at third place, were all private schools.

As for Burnaby public high schools, Moscrop was tops with a score of 6.7 and overall ranking of 95th. It came in second spot behind STM among Burnaby schools.

Next up among Burnaby schools was Burnaby Mountain in third (102nd overall) on a score of 6.6, and the independent Carver Christian in fourth (106th overall) with a 6.5 score. Burnaby North took fifth place (114th, 6.4) and Burnaby Central was sixth (140th, 6.1).

Burnaby's seventh place finisher was Deer Lake Seventh Day Adventist school (175th, 5.6) which saw a big improvement from last year, when it ranked 213th. It's just the second year in the rankings for the school, which has only 21 students in Grade 12.

Burnaby South was eighth in the city (196th, 5.3), Alpha was ninth (245th, 4.3) and Byrne Creek, was in 10th (250th, 4.2).

This year's 11th and last-place finisher was Cariboo Hill at 255th overall on a score of 4.1.

STM's profile in the report showed it had zero students identified as English-as-a-second-language or having special needs. At other Burnaby schools, ESL levels were highest at Byrne Creek, home to numerous new immigrant and refugee students, with 12.5 per cent. And the proportion of special needs students was highest at Alpha, with 11.3 per cent.

Produced by the right-leaning Fraser Institute, the annual report card is developed using several indicators including average marks in mandatory provincial exams and graduation rates.

Burnaby school board chair Baljinder Narang said the rankings are too narrow in scope.

For instance, it doesn't take into account Burnaby district's large Advanced Placement program. It has significant numbers of high-achieving students taking courses for first-year university credit, but that's not factored in.

And half of the exams that are used in the rankings are in Grade 10, Narang said. That puts ESL students at a disadvantage because they often haven't caught up to their peers in the English language until Grade 12.

"In spite of all the challenges the public school system has, we produce many, many leaders and scholarship winners," she said. "The atmosphere and student engagement, I think, is the key to student success."

Burnaby Teachers Association president James Sanyshyn believes private schools always place at the top of the rankings because they get to pick and choose which students they accept.

Public schools accept all students, including those with ESL and special needs.

"The test results don't reflect the diversity that is present in the public system."

Sanyshyn says some parents place too much emphasis on the rankings. While it hasn't been proved to be linked, he's heard of schools experiencing spikes in enrolment after a good ranking. Meanwhile, others see a drop in enrolment after a drop in the standings, despite being ranked higher only a few years earlier.

"The tools they use are arbitrary and quite rigid and narrow … They're measuring just the students who wrote the test on the days that they took it. And then they're extrapolating what that means from that one flawed tool," Sanyshyn said.

"It doesn't take into account any sort of human element."

For its part, the Fraser Institute holds up Britannia secondary in east Vancouver as an example against such arguments. It's a school that has improved significantly in recent years despite having the highest proportion of special needs students among all schools in the report card, says the report's authors.

“A school like Britannia counters one of the common misconceptions about student performance," said Peter Cowley, its director of school performance studies. "It has a high percentage of special needs students, yet it’s improving. The Fraser Institute Report Card consistently demonstrates that some schools find ways to do better regardless of the challenges students face.”

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