A new study suggests students in the Calgary public school system are falling behind their fellow Catholic students when it comes to math, despite the Calgary Board of Education’s rebuttal that the study findings are “misleading and inaccurate.”
The Kids Come First report found more children in public schools are failing Grade 6 math than “achieving excellence.”
That’s not the case in the Catholic school system, it said.
The report blasts Calgary Board of Education (CBE) trustees for voting down a motion that would have recognized the problem and said teachers in the school system are “doing their best with the direction they are given.”
The amendment put forward by trustee Trina Hurdman was defeated 4-3, with trustees arguing that administration was already developing strategies to improve performance.
“I think we’re at the point now where we just feel that the parents and the public need to understand the breath and the depth of what is actually happening in education,” said Lisa Davis, founder of Kids Come First, while speaking with News Talk 770’s Danielle Smith on Thursday.
In a statement to News Talk 770, the CBE refuted the report’s findings but said it is committed to improving its results.
The report found the CBE’s failure rate for Grade 6 provincial achievement tests (PAT) in math is 58 per cent higher than the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD). The failure rate for the Grade 9 math PAT is 48 per cent higher than the CCSD and 14 per cent higher than the provincial average.
It found results were particularly troubling in northeast Calgary, where 93 per cent of schools are falling below the provincial average in math. That’s the case for only 47 per cent of Catholic schools.
“One of the reasons that you have better rates in some of the other quadrants is because parents there have the resources to pay for tutoring and to work with their kids,” Davis said. “And that’s not necessarily available with all parents.”
In its statement, the CBE said comprehensive reporting to the province and to the board of trustees demonstrates students are performing well in math.
But, Kids Come First points to the CBE’s own math engagement roadmap, in which it admits math scores have declined across the province; including within its own system.
“So, CBE says ‘as a system we continue to experience a decline,’ out of one side of their mouth and in the other side of their mouth says, ‘students are performing well,’” a statement from Kids Come First reads. “How do they reconcile these conflicting statements?”
They also ask why the board needs a math engagement strategy if students are doing so well.
“A higher percentage of Grade 6 students achieved at the acceptable standard and the standard of excellence than in the province,” a statement from the CBE reads. “In addition, we have improved both at the standard of excellence at Grade 6 and at the acceptable standard in Grade 9 when compared to the province.”
The CBE said the board reports on every student enrolled when it comes to provincial achievement tests, while other jurisdictions may choose to report only students who wrote the test.
“This means that our results include students who may have been absent or choose not to write for a variety of reasons. This negatively impacts our overall results, but aligns with our objective of encouraging every student to participate fully in the program of study.”
It said its results include ESL students and students with special needs, whether they write the tests or not.
“If we used ‘students enrolled,’ CBE’s performance is even worse,” a Kids Come First statement reads. “Instead of having a Grade 9 failure rate that is 46 per cent higher than CCSD, it would be 53 per cent higher.”
The Catholic school district declined to comment on the results, saying it’s unsure if the report was comparing “apples to apples.”
It added the data is very complex and is “looked at so many different ways and analyzed so many different ways.”
The CBE said report card data would provide a more accurate glimpse into student performance.
“Reports related to multi-year Provincial Achievement Tests and report card results … are posted on our website,” a statement from the CBE reads.
Kids Come First argues that multi-year reports are not published by school, which prevents parents from seeing the “trendline in achievement.”
“As partners in education, parents expect easy access to complete data,” a statement reads. “Providing incomplete information is an unfortunate reality parents deal with on a regular basis.”
The Kids Come First study also found that higher admin costs are hurting Calgary students and that if the CBE ran at the same ratio of overhead costs and school supports as the Catholic school district, an extra $110 million would go directly into Calgary schools.
“What that means is that these under-performing schools could have an aid in every classroom. When you talk to teachers about the difference that makes, it’s enormous,” Davis added.
“There’s no question that these high overhead and admin cost hurt kids. They hurt teachers who are trying to help these kids.”
The CBE said it carefully manages board and system administration costs and that all boards are required by Alberta Education to provide an annual report. It adds the board and administration costs are less than three per cent.