It won't make the Principal's List, but the superintendent's report on student achievement for School District 57 is certainly worthy of a gold star or two.
Gains continue to be made in the number of SD 57 students who graduate high school within six years of entering Grade 8, a greater percentage of students advanced to the next grade level, and more aboriginal students are finishing Grade 12 with enough credits to graduate than the provincial average.
But there's still work to be done in elementary schools for students in Grades 4 and 7 to catch up to the provincial averages in writing and numeracy, while the achievement gap between aboriginal students and the rest of students in area schools continues to raise the concerns of local educators.
"I think largely the report was positive, there were positive directions even in the areas we were concerned about," said SD 57 superintendent Brian Pepper. "Despite the growing complexities in classrooms across the district, our district has been able to address learning so our results continue to improve."
Since 2008, the district has made steady gains in the six-year completion rate, from 70 per cent of all students in 2007-08 to 76 per cent in 2011-12 -- a five per cent increase over the previous school year but still five percentage points below the provincial average. Seventy-eight per cent of female students and 74 per cent of males completed high school within six years.
More students are getting the message about the importance of completing school to become qualified in competitive job markets and Pepper said schools are getting better at engaging students in their own educations by offering interesting course material.
More aboriginal students, who made up 24.9 per cent of the total student population, are staying in school. The aboriginal high school completion rate jumped from 44 per cent in 2010-11 to 55 per cent last year, but that rate remains about 20 per cent lower than it was for all students.
The district's grade-to-grade transition rate was above the provincial average from Grades 6-10, but only 81 per cent of SD 57 students advanced from Grade 11 to 12, five per cent lower than the B.C. average.
The rate of Grade 12 students who enrolled in sufficient courses to graduate that year continued to improve. Ninety-six per cent of all SD 57 Grade 12 students graduated, compared to the B.C. average of 94 per cent. The rate of aboriginal students was 97 per cent in SD 57, as compared to the 88 per cent provincial average.
"I am optimistic that continued improvement in each grade level will lead to improved graduation and six-year completion rats in the near future," said Pepper. "We were below the provincial grad rate by about 10 percentage points about five years ago and we're climbing and we're nearing that."
Schools use the Early Development Instrumental (EDI) to measure the vulnerability of kindergarten-aged students, based on potential barriers to achievement related to physical, social, emotional health, language and cognitive development, and communication. When the test was first administered, 27 per cent of students were considered more vulnerable in one or more areas. By 2011-12, the number climbed to 32 per cent. But that increased cause for concern was not reflected in the achievement of SD 57 students. Pepper said the district recognizes vulnerable classroom situations by providing teachers with smaller class sizes and allocating extra resources and support staff.
Foundations skills assessment tests in 2011-12 revealed SD 57 Grade 7 students exceeded the provincial average of 64 per cent in reading by three per cent, but fell two per cent short of the B.C. average of 70 per cent in Grade 4. In writing and numeracy, the district was a few points below provincial averages and will remain an area of focus for the district.
Pepper said the district will continue to support its mathematics enhancement project and through its learning team grants will support literacy, numeracy, aboriginal education, technology and assessment programs to give teachers more chances to collaborate and make program improvements.