CCTA explains why teachers oppose FSA tests

The Foundation Skills Assessment tests are opposed by educators and teacher organizations because they don’t do the job they were designed to do, says Joan Erb, Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president.

The Foundation Skills Assessment tests are opposed by educators and teacher organizations because they don’t do the job they were designed to do, says Joan Erb, Cariboo Chilcotin Teachers’ Association president.

In a report to the School District 27 board Jan. 25, Erb said FSA tests were introduced in 1999, replacing the superior Provincial Learning Assessment Program.

While there may be a place for standardized testing in public education, she said the purpose of the testing should always be motivated by a desire to improve teaching and learning.

“The Foundation Skills Assessment is not designed or used for this purpose,” Erb said.

She said the current purpose and use of the FSA is similar to Kevin Falcon’s (Liberal leadership candidate) recent ideas about linking test scores and teacher pay.

“Identifying winners and losers should never be confused with the promotion of excellence,” Erb said.

The FSA is given to all Grade 4 and Grade 7 students (about 90,000 students) every year at a cost of about $20 per student, Erb said.

Instead of looking at 10 elementary subject areas that parents see on report cards, or six subjects that were tested on in the Provincial Learning Assessment Program, she says the FSA narrows the focus of testing down to two areas — math and English/language arts.

“Success in school means much more than mid-year test scores in two subject areas,” Erb said.

She said the Provincial Learning Assessment Program was also administered on a random sample basis.

“The purpose was clear — to improve the public education system — and the results were not misused,” Erb says.

“Individual students and schools were not identified because assessing individual students and teachers was never the intent.”

Erb said later that she was very disappointed that the school board didn’t support her request made at the Jan. 25 board meeting to draft a letter similar to one drafted by the Vancouver Board of Education which in part states in part:

“As a board, we respect the right and responsibility of parents and students to determine whether or not the student’s participation in the FSA is in the best interest of the student.

“We therefore support the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council executive’s position that: ‘it is up to each family, considering what they know about their students and think is in their best interest to decide whether or not their children should participate.’”

The letter goes on to outline information about the FSA.

The School District 27 trustees discussed at length drafting a letter to parents outlining Ministry of Education requirements for the FSA tests but in the end voted down the idea.

Trustee Richard Elliott said that while he didn’t personally agree with the FSA tests, sending a letter outlining reasons children may be exempt from the tests would muddy the waters on the reality that the FSA tests are required by the Ministry of Education.

Trustee Patricia Baker supported a parent’s right to chose whether or not their child takes the FSA tests.

She said it comes down to a question of civil liberties. “I am strongly in favor of parents being able to make decisions about what their children are doing in school and will do in school.”

Trustee Bruce Mack said he had taught in a school system that taught to exams and that is not a healthy way to go in education.

Assistant superintendent Harj Manhas pointed out that the FSAs are required by the Ministry of Education and the only reasons a student could be exempt from taking the tests is in the case of a family emergency, sickness, or extenuating circumstances, and with permission of the principal.

Since the testing is done over a three-week period, he said testing for a child that is sick could be rescheduled.

FSA testing of Grade 4 and Grade 7 students in happening in School District 27 this month.

In a separate letter received by the School District 27 board Jan. 25, Minister of Education Margaret MacDiarmid was clear that the FSAs are required, not optional.

She said the ability to read, write and solve math problems are vital skills every child needs in life and that the FSA tests are a reliable predictor of whether a child will graduate from school on time.

The test results allow parents to work together with their child’s teacher to identify problems and take action early on, she said.

“Please ensure your child writes this year’s FSA. Checking your child’s learning abilities in these early years is just like having regular medical check ups. The results may be critical to ensuring their success in high school and beyond,” MacDiarmid said in the letter.