You’ve probably heard about FSA tests over the last few months. Here is an article from our Board of Education Chair, Silas White, as published in The Local:
The FSA Debate: Redux
I’m not sure if people perceive the debate over Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) standardized testing in our elementary schools as a constant the last few years, or only that it seems to come up consistently every year… but it is getting dizzying.
Province-wide, the debate has shifted because these assessments of numeracy, literacy and reading comprehension, given annually to grades 4 and 7 students, are now occurring in the first week of February rather than in May.
Also this year, the BC Teachers’ Federation has voted to “not prepare for, administer, or mark” the FSA. In consultation with our provincial employers’ association, school district senior management is working hard to prepare for such an occurrence.
The Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association is concerned the tests are inaccurate, impractical, costly, unhelpful, incomplete, unnecessary, unfunded, and misleading. SCTA President Denis Fafard has described the use of FSA results by the Fraser Institute to rank schools as a biased political strategy to cause “the erosion of confidence in public education.”
Our Board of Education has stated that although FSA data provides a snapshot of the skills of a group of students at one time, fulfills reporting requirements, and confirms information already gathered by classroom teachers, it does not provide a complete picture or even a summary of student achievement and growth—especially for an entire school.
Another development this year is that some provincial media outlets have reported that some boards in the province are “taking action” on FSAs. However, the FSA is entrenched in provincial law as being under the authority of the Ministry of Education, and school districts have no flexibility in classifying the test as optional or refusing to administer it.
Some boards have decided to make political statements on the issue, as is their right. The Vancouver board expressed its belief that parents should be able to decide whether their children participate. But this year as in previous years, students may only be withdrawn in cases of family emergency, illness, or extenuating circumstances.
Our board made its own suggestion to the Minister last March: that the Ministry not identify individual schools by name when releasing FSA data or any other provincially standardized exam results. Minister of Health George Abbott has taken this approach to hospital data, to ensure that “whenever analytical work is done with respect to our hospitals that it is constructed in an appropriate and fair and scientifically rigorous manner.” In other words, we could also avoid external rankings of public schools that tend to be simplistic, biased and misleading.
When Education Minister Shirley Bond wrote back to us last August, she generally agreed with our points about the misuse of FSA data, but did not promise anything. More recently, the board for Coquitlam (the third-largest district in BC) has decided to support the proposal, others are considering it as well, and the Vancouver Sun reported on it online earlier this week. Last Tuesday, our board voted to ask the Minister to reconsider.