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Same Alberta high schools fail year after year

Year after year the same Alberta high schools are failing and they're not showing any signs of improvement based on the Fraser Institute's annual rankings.

The conservative policy think-tank released a report Sunday that identified 40 that have consistently produced below-average academic results based on provincewide testing.

"They can do better and the point is they seemingly don't know how to do better," said Peter Cowley, the institute's director of school performance studies.

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The group's annual report card on schools is viewed as problematic by many education insiders because its assessment of schools is too narrowly focused on provincewide test scores.

"I think it's unfair, it doesn't tell the whole story," said Edgar Schmidt, superintendent of schools for Edmonton Public Schools, which saw four high schools make the list.

One of those schools has a high proportion of English-as-a-second-language learners, and the whole story would include details such as the results of parent satisfaction surveys and measures of school culture, he said.

Parents should take the results with a grain of salt, but school boards could take a cue that it's time for a new approach, according to Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards' Association.

"If with what they're doing they can see there isn't a significant change, well then you have to do something differently," she said.

The rankings are based on eight measures, including the number of diploma courses taken per student, advancement rates, diploma completion rates, examination marks and examination fail rates.

Mr. Cowley said schools often blame poor performances on socioeconomics and student demographics.

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"We cannot say there are some characteristics of students that meant that they will not be successful and we will have to just put up with that."

He said these schools should be researching best practices and importing new ways to help students.

The province has 276 high schools and they are scored on a scale of one to 10. This year, there were four schools that won a perfect score; two in Calgary and two in Edmonton.

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