There is a certain petulance and paternalism in the reaction of a large Ontario school board to a real-estate agent’s attempt to rank its elementary schools. Susi Kostyniuk created her own system in which she cross-tabulates reading, writing and math scores on provincial tests for Grade 3 and Grade 6 pupils with neighbourhood demographics: household income levels, parental education, number of single-parent households and of ESL students.
A spokesman for the Peel District School Board, Brian Woodland, alleges that part of Ms. Kostyniuk’s agenda is to show “how white” a school is; the board’s director, Tony Pontes, says the rankings discriminate against the poor and single parents. The board is writing a letter asking Ms. Kostyniuk to shut her rankings down.
But here’s the strange thing: The board has its own “social-risk index,” from which it decides which schools are most in need of extra financial support. (Ms. Kostyniuk calls her measure by a not very nice name, the “teacher difficulty index.”) Among the index’s nine categories, several bear a strong resemblance to Ms. Kostyniuk’s categories: average household income; proportion of residents 15 and older without a high school diploma; knowledge of Canada’s official languages; proportion of recent immigrants; and single-parent families.
Ms. Kostyniuk is taking useful measures of challenges to school achievement, and putting them with test scores so that similarly situated schools can be compared with one another. Her data are imprecise – far better data are available that show the demographics of the pupils, based on their home postal code. (At some schools, the numbers who come from outside neighbourhoods may be large enough to cast her conclusions in doubt.) But it’s unfair to impute discriminatory motives to her.
The board isn’t the only group of educators opposed to school comparisons based on test scores. The Ontario government’s school-testing agency created a website tool five years ago that allows principals and staff – but not parents and the public – to match a school’s demographics with its test scores.
The Peel board makes the valid point that there is much more to know about any school than its test scores or demographics suggest. Fine, but why try to suppress Ms. Kostyniuk’s entrepreneurial exploration of school data? If administrators can benefit, parents just might, too.
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