School in polygamous community near top of Fraser Institute’s rankings
by WENDY STUECK
VANCOUVER - The sparring over standardized testing in British Columbia’s elementary schools moved into another round Monday, as a Fraser Institute report card based on test results gave a school in the polygamous community of Bountiful a top score.
The education provided in Bountiful has been in the spotlight in a polygamy-related court proceeding under way in B.C. Supreme Court, in which a former Bountiful resident testified that education was not valued in the community.
But in the Fraser Institute’s 2011 report card, released Monday, Bountiful Elementary Secondary School received an overall rating of 10 out of 10, putting the rural school in the same bracket as a dozen other schools – including Vancouver-based private schools St. George’s and Crofton – that secured the highest possible ranking.
It was the first appearance on the report card for Bountiful Elementary, which previously did not meet reporting thresholds.
The score reflects students’ skills in basic reading, writing and numeracy – and Bountiful’s high score does not diminish the report card’s credibility, Fraser Institute spokesman Peter Cowley said on Monday.
“If anything, I hope that it will put to rest the criticism that the report card is designed by the Fraser Institute to emphasize the value of private schools,” Mr. Cowley said.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, which has lobbied against the tests and the Fraser Institute’s report card for more than a decade, said the Bountiful school’s top ranking reflects problems with the tests and their use.
“It tells you about the worthlessness of the rankings,” said BCTF president Susan Lambert, saying that Bountiful school has failed to live up to provincial standards for teaching and curriculum.
Bountiful has two elementary schools, both of which receive funding from the province.
For this school year, Bountiful Elementary has received a preliminary operating grant of about $988,000, based on its reported enrolment of 213 full-time students.
Mormon Hills, another elementary school in Bountiful, has received a grant of about $755,000, based on enrolment of 163 students.
In an affidavit filed for the polygamy court proceeding, provincial school inspector Edward Vanderboom wrote that Bountiful Elementary has had decreasing numbers of students enrolled in upper grades for most of the past decade. Since 2007, when the school’s curriculum fell short of meeting provincial requirements for high-school graduation, Bountiful has not been able to offer a B.C. graduation certificate.
This year, Mormon Hills has been approved to grant the graduation certificate.
The inclusion of Bountiful in the Fraser Institute Rankings comes as the provincial ministry of education and BCTF continue their long-running war of words over the test. In an open letter to parents last month, education minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the government remains committed to the tests, which she described as a building block for academic success.
The attorneys-general of Canada and B.C. have argued that polygamy harms women, children and society and that Canada’s law against polygamy should be upheld. A court-appointed amicus curiae has argued that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.
A Monday court ruling cleared the way for cameras and webcams for the final stage of the proceeding. Closing arguments are expected in March.
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CBC News - The Canadian Press February 8, 2011
Polygamous community's schools defended
The declining school enrolment in the polygamous commune of Bountiful can be explained by reasons other than a high drop-out rate, a lawyer for the community said Tuesday.
A judge is hearing arguments about whether the prohibition on multiple marriage violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He has spent more than two months hearing about the alleged harms of polygamy, including substandard education and poor graduation rates.
On Tuesday, an official with B.C.'s Education Ministry compared enrolment data from Bountiful's two schools with the same data from other B.C. schools and concluded Bountiful students appeared to be disappearing from class rather than progressing into higher grades.
For example, the community's two schools had 16 students enrolled in Grade 8 in the 2004-2005 academic year. Four years later, when they would be expected to be in Grade 12, just three of those students were still in B.C.'s education system.
But Matthew Siren, a lawyer for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), suggested there are many reasons why a student might not progress to subsequent grades.
They could have dropped out, moved out of the province to finish their studies, graduated early or even died, he said.
Community has two schools
"So looking at this graph, you can't determine which of those reasons is the cause for these numbers, right?" Siren asked Brent Munro, who compiled the data for the ministry.
"No," replied Munro.
Siren didn't say which explanation is correct. He did note that many of the students on that list of 16 completed Grade 12-level provincial exams, suggesting they may have finished their studies early.
"If they had met [Bountiful Elementary-Secondary School's] graduation requirements after Grade 11, it would show them not continuing to Grade 12?" said Siren.
"Correct," replied Munro.
Bountiful has two schools: Bountiful Elementary-Secondary and Mormon Hills School. Each receives provincial government funding.
Only Mormon Hills is certified to grant official high school diplomas -- a distinction it earned for the first time last fall. Bountiful Elementary-Secondary applied for that status in 2007, but that was rejected after inspectors identified several problems with the school's curriculum.
To obtain a high school diploma without that certification, students would be required to attend class elsewhere, either by leaving the community or taking correspondence courses.
Documents filed with the court indicate very few students actually do that. Since 2003, only 25 students from the two schools have ever obtained a graduation certificate or the adult equivalent.
Siren suggested students in Bountiful were completing the graduation requirements, even if they were denied an official diploma from the province.
Bountiful Elementary-Secondary made headlines on Monday when the right-wing Fraser Institute ranked it among the province's No. 1 elementary schools. The report card rated schools based on standardized exam scores for Grades 4 and 7, which test reading, writing and math. Mormon Hills wasn't included in the report.
The Fraser Institute ratings came up briefly in court on Tuesday.
The provincial government data submitted to the court compared Bountiful with schools in other communities, including Alert Bay and Bowen Island, which are similarly isolated and also can't award high-school diplomas.
Students in those communities must leave or complete correspondence courses to graduate, and their graduation rates were much higher than Bountiful's.
But Siren pointed to Bountiful's No. 1 ranking, and he noted it was better than Bowen Island's 117th spot.
"Five out of six scores indicated in this report have Bountiful beating Bowen Island," he said.
The constitutional reference was prompted by the failed prosecution of two leaders in Bountiful. Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each charged in 2009 with practising polygamy, but those charges were later thrown out because of how the prosecutor was assigned to the case.
The constitutional hearings were expected to wrap up testimony last month, but the provincial government called additional witnesses this week to testify about government statistics related to the community.
Closing arguments are expected to begin on March 28.
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