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Interpreting the Fraser Institute report card: Where does Whistler Secondary stand?



Whistler Secondary is just above average.

At least according to the Fraser Institute’s report card 2002 released last month.

"The average overall rating out of 10 is 6 and Whistler Secondary is 6.2," said Peter Cowley, director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute.

"The general feel of the overall rating out of 10 is that the school is above average, but not up by a whole lot.

"Still, when you look at its overall rating for the last five years it is 83rd out of 255 which is in the top third.

"So depending on expectations that may be good or not good."

There in lies the crux of the problem: perceptions and expectations.

Cowley acknowledges the report has limited use, offering a snapshot of some of the characteristics of a school.

It does not measure the personality of a school or the activities that are offered that round out students as people.

But what it can do, said Cowley, is give each school a measure of how it is doing in some key areas.

And he has this advice for parents and others interested in the school: "Look at the report card as an opportunity to see if there are any areas that have been overlooked that might be opportunities for improvement.

"Look at the failure rate, and forget about what St. George’s (a private school) does. Look at the school you are in and ask, ‘Do we care about it in the first place?’

"The second thing to ask is, ‘Are we doing well enough?’ and if the answer is no then what can you do as a community to improve.

"Use some of the other comparisons that the report card makes possible. The most important of which is probably the school’s performance relative to its own history. Are you getting better as a school or are you getting worse?"

But caution is needed interpreting the Fraser Institute statistics.

In a new category of statistics to be included next year, Whistler Secondary has only 66 per cent of students graduating – a disturbing figure to be sure.

But behind the statistic, said Whistler Secondary principal Ken Davies, are explanations unique to Whistler.

For instance up to 15 per cent of students at Whistler Secondary are in the Elite Athlete Program, which allows them to pursue sports outside of school but continue their education on a more flexible timetable.

That often means graduating early or late and taking courses through distance learning, which do not show up in the Fraser Institute statistics.

"What ends up happening is if you combine the 66 per cent with the individuals that have achieved (graduation) in a different way the percentage is significantly higher," said Davies.

"The difficulty is (the Fraser Institute report) does not incorporate all the components of a school’s program both inside and outside the classroom."

And this year’s graduating class has only 52 students. An average class has between 85 and 100.

"There is a difficulty when you have a small graduating class as results can be changed dependent upon the success or failure of a few particular graduates," said Davies.

"They can affect the results for everyone."

Davies is adamant that Whistler Secondary is offering quality education.

"What we are offering in the school are quality programs in all of the graduate programs," he said.

"But we are a small high school so the results are very dependent on the particular cohort in a particular year.

"We continue to work toward improvement but the Fraser Institute results must be kept in their proper context.

"They don’t tell the whole story for education."