B.C. student assessment: Not meeting expectations?October 8, 2013
An advisory group that was created last spring to review student assessment has submitted a report to government with some interesting recommendations but no firm position on B.C.’s most controversial testing issue: the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA). “There are substantial concerns and limitations associated with the current structure of assessment,” says the report by the group’s co-chairs Kris Magnusson, education dean at SFU, and Blye Frank, his UBC counterpart. But more work is needed before changes are undertaken, it adds.
The report, which hasn’t been made public yet but was recently emailed to me, says large-scale assessments (such as the FSA) provide “a general snapshot of system quality” but “may not provide sufficiently robust data to enable accurate comparisons of service quality.” That’s a dig at the Fraser Institute’s annual report card on elementary schools. The report card ranks schools based on scores from the FSA, which is an annual test of reading, writing and numeracy skills in Grades 4 and 7.
Most people agree that one set of tests is not a reliable indicator of a school’s performance, especially in districts such as Vancouver, where a significant number of parents withdraw their children from the FSA as a form of protest. Nevertheless, families who want to know how their neighbourhood school compares with others have few other information sources.
But progress on this thorny issue won’t happen quickly. “We have not yet reached the point where we could confidently suggest a consensus set of recommendations, other than a unanimous express of interest in keeping the dialogue going,” the deans state in their report.
The FSA may be the most controversial assessment in B.C. but it is not the only one under review. Questions are also being asked about the future of the five provincial exams in Grades 10, 11 and 12 and national and international assessments such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment).
Some educators insist that the current approach to assessment is an inadequate measure of student performance now that schools are embracing the “personalized learning” promoted by the BC Education Plan. Discussions are also taking place about the value of report cards and letter grades.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, for example, has decided that teachers will no longer be required to provide letter grades in elementary schools. They may opt instead for a new model that would include student self-assessment and more meetings with parents and students to discuss progress.
Other school districts and the ministry are watching with interest.