School achievement numbers questioned

Chilliwack school district changes way it reports success, which has one trustee questioning the validity of the numbers.

One Chilliwack school trustee wasn’t buying the “good news” numbers featured in the superintendent’s report on student achievement.

Despite multiple school district officials boasting about last year’s successes in achievement at Tuesday’s board meeting, school trustee Heather Maahs could not accept the report.

Maahs is concerned the numbers looked a bit too pie in the sky.

“The math doesn’t work for me,” she said.

“I can’t make heads or tails out of it … if I’m making decisions based on these numbers they’re giving us, I can’t make a good decision.”

This year the school district rated its success more on percentage rate of growth than the number of students meeting or exceeding expectations as has been done in previous years.

For instance, with the Grade 8 reading assessment (RAD), the percentage rate of growth for aboriginal boys meeting or exceeding expectations was 260 per cent. However, looking at it from the number of students meeting or exceeding expectations, that translates into a a 26 per cent increase from 2011-12 when only 10 per cent were meeting or exceeding to 2012-13 when 36 per cent were.

“These numbers look fantastic, which of course I’m not opposed to, except that they don’t corroborate each other,” said Maahs. “It doesn’t give you a standardized norm; you’re not looking at the same thing from year to year.

“I don’t want people to think that we’re playing smoke and mirrors games with numbers.”

Kirk Savage, director of instruction, disagrees.

Savage provided those in attendance with a five-minute “math lesson” to help better understand the new rating system.

“It’s a truer example of what’s happening,” said Savage.

And while the numbers this way do look more impressive, he admitted, they’d also look “really bad” if there was regression

“We’re trying to report as effectively as we can and at the end of the day, we’re just trying to tell the story a bit better,” said Savage.

Plus, while this new percentage rate of growth column was added to the report, the previous reporting mechanism was still also included in the report.

The report noted significant improvements in reading and reading comprehension at the grades 3 and 6 level, as well as in middle school. There were also improvements seen in numeracy, and completion rates.

However, while there has been some improvements for aboriginal students, the gap is still far too wide between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, said superintendent Evelyn Novak.

There also continues to be a gender imbalance with female students performing at a far more elevated level than male students.

In nearly every assessment listed, aside from the Grade 4 FSA numeracy (both at 72 per cent meeting or exceeding) and the six-year completion rates (both at 78 per cent), the percentage of female students meeting or exceeding was anywhere from a few percentage points more to as high as 25 per cent more, which was in the Grade 8 reading assessment that had 69 per cent of female students meeting or exceeding compared to 44 per cent of male students.

To see the full report, visit the school district website at under board meeting agendas.

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