The Whistler Waldorf School is part of the Fraser Institute's annual report card list for the first time this year, ranking 89 out of 978 elementary schools in the province, coming in above one local public school and tying with the other.
For a school that puts little stock in the FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) tests in reading, writing and numeracy at the Grade-4 and Grade-7 levels, the results were a surprise. The recent report compiles results from the 2013-14 school year.
"I was quite surprised to hear that. That's great," said principal Aegir Morgan, adding that the school does not teach to the FSA testing at all.
"We just do it as a task that we have to do as a publicly funded school, but we don't actually teach to the requirements of the FSA tests. Very interesting, interesting that we did well."
Waldorf's score is equal to Spring Creek Elementary School and is above Myrtle Philip Community School, which ranked 291 out of 978 with a score of 6.8 out of 10.
Myrtle Philip has seen a steady decline in its scores since 2011 from a high of 8.8 out of 10 to this year's 6.8. The Grade 4 average score in reading, writing and numeracy were all trending downwards over last year. Grade 7 reading and writing were up over last year while numeracy was down.
Principal Jeff Maynard, however, puts no stock in the results.
"We just don't look at them," he said. "They're not a concern. They're not something that guides our school planning because for us they don't tell a meaningful story."
The raw data on the other hand paints a more complete picture, showing how individual students are performing.
Maynard said there is an increase in the percentage of students in Grade 7 who are meeting or exceeding expectations, compared to the number three years ago when they were tested in Grade 4.
"So that's the story that's important and I think that's what's misleading about the Fraser Institute is that the parents are going to look at the ranking and see whether it's increased or decreased, but what they're not seeing is that these individual students are improving," he said.
In that light, Maynard called the Fraser Institute report cards "unethical," painting only part of the picture and not telling the story of the school's success as a whole.
"What we as a school want is so much more than that," he said. "We want those kids improving continually in reading, writing and math, and they are. But we want more than that, too. We want the critical thinking skills, the collaboration skills, and those just aren't measured."
Those skills are core tenets in the new district-wide Pathways to Learning education plan, which was introduced last year. How those skills are to be measured is something the district is still working on.
"This is the work that we're doing right now... looking at ways to directly teach collaboration," said Maynard.
Spring Creek achieved its highest ranking in the most recent five years. Principal Lisa Bartlett could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Though the Waldorf school has been participating in the testing for years, this is the first time the school as a whole has been ranked. The school has seen enrollment skyrocket in recent years.
Morgan explained that the Waldorf approach is to start academics much later, and typically younger grades are not on par with their public school counterparts. The first three years at Waldorf is a much slower approach to academics with more focus on the arts.
"Many more studies are realizing that if you blend academic learning with other styles of learning that it can have a stronger effect on academic performance, which I suppose this would attest to," said Morgan. "There might be something in that integrated approach."
Go to compareschoolrankings.org to learn more about the Fraser Institute results.