The Immeasurables

Each year, many students in Grades Four and Seven around British Columbia participate in the Foundational Skills Assessments (FSAs) which is followed in the springtime by a report by the Fraser Institute ranking schools based on the results. Each year, there is plenty of talk among parents and educators as to how the school rankings capture only a part of what elementary students learn and the effectiveness of schools.

While foundation skills of reading, writing and numeracy are inarguably fundamental to the purpose of elementary education, there are frequent conversations as to the many “immeasurables” schools are responsible for that foster the well-being of children related to their social, emotional, and physical health.

In my years in education, I have noticed an increase in expectation and appreciation for schools’ roles beyond primary levels in developing the whole child, focusing not just on academic success but social, emotional and physical development as well. Experiential evidence and academic research suggest that educating the mind cannot be done effectively without a strong social and emotional foundation.

It is fortunate that as awareness and expectations of the importance of schools doing more to educate the whole child increase beyond academic development, many of the “immeasurables” are now being measured and shared with the schools, districts and communities that are responsible for the development of children.

Some of the work of measuring is being done by the Human Early Learning Partnership at the University of British Columbia. For several years, the Partnership has been utilizing the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to measure core areas of early (pre-kindergarten) child development that predict adult health and positive social outcomes.

More recently, the Partnership has started implementing the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI) for children ages six to twelve. Recently, the Director of the Partnership, Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, spoke to school leaders in School District 45 about the MDI and the focus of this post will be on some of the results of the MDI for the community of Bowen Island.

A survey was administered to Grade Four students at BICS last spring with the intention of measuring children’s overall health and well-being. The phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is recognized in the survey so it analyzes assets within a child’s community, including at the child’s school, that support their overall health and well-being.

The assets within the school and the community that are recognized as supporting overall health and well-being are summarized (not in order of importance) as (1) supportive relationships with adults, (2) supportive relationships with peers, (3) participation in enriching after-school activities, and (4) proper nutrition and sleep.

As the community of Bowen Island considers how we are setting our students up for success, it is worth analyzing the data from the MDI – available here. The rest of this post will be divided in three sections: first, assets that promote development; second, some of the results of these assets on students’ well-being; and third, my conclusions from reading the report.


Asset 1 – Supportive Relationships with Adults

  • 97% of students report having medium to high connection to adults at school (86% high; 11% medium)
  • 86% of students report having medium to high connection to adults in the neighbourhood (67% high; 19% medium)

Asset 2 – Supportive Peer Relationships

  • 84% of students report having medium to high sense of peer belonging (68% high; 16% medium)
  • 84% of students report having medium to high level of friendship intimacy (67% high; 17% medium)

Asset 3 – After School Activities

  • 94% of students report watching less than 2 hours of television per day (22% report watching no television at all)
  • 98% of students report being on the computer less than 2 hours per day
  • 89% of students report participating in an organized activity (sports, music, arts) 2+ times per week

Asset 4 – Nutrition and Sleep

  • 97% of students report having breakfast (3 or more times per week)
  • 81% of students report having meals at home with family 3 or more times per week
  • 84% of students report having a good sleep 3 or more times per week (68% high; 16% medium)

The MDI summarizes the percentages of children reporting each of the assets in the form of a puzzle. In the puzzle to the right, the percentages include students who report “a little true” or higher to questions related to each of the assets.

Overall Health & Well-Being

The well-being index shared below summarizes student responses related to feeling happy and optimistic, having high self-esteem, general health, and little sadness. Students were asked to share their sense of these attributes on a scale of 1-5 (1 = disagree a lot, 5 = agree a lot) where average responses less than 3 were considered low, and average responses 4 and greater were considered high.

My Conclusions

In reviewing the data, there were few surprises and few alarm bells as to the assets BICS and the community of Bowen Island are offering children. The community is, in comparison with the neighborhoods in the rest of the School District of West Vancouver and the other districts in the province I reviewed, doing well. However, one cannot help but have some concern that 25% of students report low well-being.

In considering what to do with the MDI report, there are no glaring deficits or assets needing particular attention but the high percentage of students reporting low well-being suggests there is plenty of room for improvement, and regardless of result, we may as well always be oriented toward improvement.

The key takeaway for me though is not just in the results. It is that the school and community generally should be reminded often of the key assets that have been identified as promoting the positive development of children and to ensure we as a community are deliberate in promoting these assets. In many ways, the statements that students were asked to respond to are more enlightening than the answers as it is the statements in the survey (“At my school there is an adult who really cares about me.” “In my home, there is a parent or another adult who listens to me when I have something to say.”) that reminds us of our purpose and the importance of our roles in schools and communities.

It will be interesting as the survey is implemented in coming years to track progress, note trends, and identify needs of varying cohorts. It is fortunate that the “immeasurables” are being measured.


This blog is not intended as a summary of the MDI report (its results or how the results were acquired) for Bowen Island or School District 45. MDI results for various districts can be found here.

Further Reading

Click here to read about the importance of sleep from Catherine Ratz, principal of Irwin Park Elementary School.

One thought on “The Immeasurables

  1. Pingback: Reminders, Reflections, Purpose | Thinking about Learning

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