FSA's running this month across B.C. are a political nightmare

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
January 28th, 2011

There is widespread agreement among teachers, principals and even the Boundary region’s school district that foundation skills assessments (FSA) have become increasingly politicized.

The assessments, about to be administered across School District 51 (SD 51), are criticized for their use in ranking schools and districts against each other through the Fraser Institute. Despite the criticism, the tests will be done again this year for grades 4 and 7 students and teachers as well as principals will be expected to perform their regular obligations to the exams.

“While there may be flaws in the FSA process, and we certainly do not support the ranking of schools or school districts, we feel the district and teachers still need to meet their obligations as outlined in the Ministerial Order (No. 60/94,)” explained Teresa Rezansoff, chair of the school district board of trustees.  “We trust that parents, students and schools will co-operate and assist the district in meeting its responsibilities. The board remains committed to questioning the appropriate use of the FSA and keeping a focus on our students and their learning.”  Because of the Fraser Institute’s annual school rankings, the B.C. Teachers Federation and the local Boundary District Teachers Association have taken a clear position that the FSA’s should be boycotted.  “What we have a problem with is the fact that every kid in the province has to write it (FSA) and then those results are then sent to the Fraser Institute who then ranks schools,” said Norm Sabourin, president of the Boundary District Teachers Association. “The BCTF would not have a problem with a system (that used the tests) over time to adjust curriculum – that would work well. Teachers don’t have problem with assessment.”  Sabourin said that the teachers would rather see a model of testing that is anonymous with random sampling such as one done in Finland to great success. With the B.C. FSA however, the increasing numbers of parents withdrawing their children from the exams makes the data collected less valid, explained Sabourin.  “If a parent withdraws a student from the test, that counts against school average – that child gets a zero,” explained Sabourin. “I think the Ministry implemented that policy to try and pressure parents into having their kids write the test. It hasn’t worked in their favour. When the results of the FSA do not go on the child’s record in any way, has nothing to do with evaluation, it does nothing to help the teacher in any way, it doesn’t help the student, you wonder why they’re doing it.”  But parents, teachers and principals can use the exams to the benefit of not only the individual students, but to also evaluate course outcomes explained School Superintendent Michael Strukoff.  “When the results are sent in, then the results are posted on a web only accessible by the school principal so they see the individual student results and subsequent school results are published and made available to staff, and district and the public, and there are item analyses that are done,” Strukoff said. “You can see which answers they are getting wrong and why. It provides you that information. There are a lot of opportunities to learn from the tests for schools and teachers as well.”  Part of the dissatisfaction with using just the FSA results for ranking schools is because the tests do not take into account other factors that might impact on the reasons for poor results such as economic stresses for families, added Strukoff. While Strukoff said the number of students taking the exam in SD 51 dropped in 2010, he’s confident that the proactive position of the board encouraging parents to allow participation will see the rates up for 2011.  “This year we’ve tried to provide parents more information about what the expectations are,” said Strukoff. “If a parent is adamant we’re not going to force a family to do that. But as a parent it’s a double check for them – how is their child comparing to the widely held expectations for your grade 4 or 7 child in those subjects.”  More information links: School District 51 – FSA information BCTF letter for parents to submit to remove students from FSA

Categories: GeneralPolitics