Terrace’s Suwilaawks Community School is one of the 10 fastest improving elementary schools in B.C., according to the Fraser Institute rankings released last month.
Scored out of 10 points based on how students performed in standard provincial tests, Suwilaawks jumped 2.9 points over the last four years from 1.2 to 4.1, with notable increases in writing and numeracy.
Though still relatively low on the Fraser Institute’s scale, the school climbed a significant 29 per cent in their ranking over four years.
“We are always thrilled to have one of our schools recognized as one of the top improving schools in the province,” said school district superintendent Katherine McIntosh, adding that it reflects well on the hard work of staff there.
However, McIntosh is quick to add that the rankings of the Fraser Institute, an independent think tank often critical of the public sector, are based almost solely on the results of provincial Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests, and reflects only one angle of how schools are doing.
“That’s just one piece of evidence that we use to monitor our system,” she said, adding that teacher and classroom evaluations are just as important, as well as other district assessments and parent and student opinion.
McIntosh also said that ranking schools based solely on test results for reading, writing and numeracy doesn’t give the full picture.
“It’s a snapshot of how kids are doing at one point in time,” she said, noting that students might be tired, malnourished, or struggling emotionally when they take the tests.
But though she disagrees with ranking schools on that one criteria, McIntosh did acknowledge that there is value in looking at the FSA test results.
“FSA is valuable for our system, to look for trends over time, it helps us see over a five year trend how our students are doing in numeracy, reading and writing,” she acknowledged.
The Fraser Institute issues a report every four years ranking schools across the province based on 10 academic indicators from the objective provincial FSA test results.
This year it ranked a total of 956 schools in B.C., and found 61 improving schools since 2011/2012.
A closer look at the Suwilaawks improvements shows that the key improvement areas are Grade 4 writing and Grade 4 numeracy.
On the Grade 4 FSA tests for writing, the average student score jumped nearly 200 points over the last four years, from 334 in 2012 to 510 in 2016.
In numeracy, Grade 4 students climbed almost 100 points on average, from 377 to 469.
Looking more generally at the number of struggling students, four years ago Suwilaawks had 63.1 per cent of students not meeting expectations, but that has improved significantly, dropping nearly by half to 34.3 per cent not meeting expectations.
Principal Pam Kawinsky, when asked what they are doing at the school, listed a whole host of things.
Among others, the school emphasizes personal relationships, incorporates daily exercise, and has frequent conversations with students about goal setting, pushing themselves, and how the school can best support struggling students.
But there is also a pointed focus on reading and writing.
“There is definitely a sense of urgency in ensuring our kids are focused on literacy and numeracy activities throughout the day,” said Kawinsky.
In an effort to instill lifelong reading habits, the school has adopted “The Daily 5” framework, which involves students choosing what to read, setting personal goals, and doing work individually, with a partner, and in small groups.
It’s “a framework for structuring literacy and numeracy time so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently,” said Kawinsky.
“We are so pleased with the consistency that it provides in our classrooms.”
The Fraser Institute rankings also noted improvement among the Grade 7 students who have now graduated out of Suwilaawks.
Those students improved in Grade 7 writing from 404 points in 2012, up to 472 last year.
Overall this year rankings, the Fraser Institute found that public elementary schools in B.C. are largely the ones improving. Out of the 61 schools who saw raised results, four were independent and 57 of them were public schools.
However, independent schools continue to outrank public schools, with the average independent school scoring eight out of 10, while public schools score an average 5.6 out of 10.
Looking at the other Terrace elementary schools, Veritas Catholic school scored a strong 8.7 out of ten. Following that is Uplands Elementary at 6.1, Ecole Mountainview at 5.1, Thornhill Elementary at 4.3, and Cassie Hall at 1.2.
The private Centennial Christian School wasn’t included because its class sizes were too small to be considered for ranking purposes.