Despite a decade-long controversy, B.C.’s standardized tests in reading, writing and math – known as the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) – are to begin next week in Grades 4 and 7.
The tests, developed by B.C. teachers and administered once a year, are intended to help the Education Ministry, school districts and schools make changes that will improve student achievement. But whether they serve that purpose has been the subject of intense debate.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) opposes the tests, primarily because they are administered to every student (rather than a random sample, as was the case in the 1990s) and the results are used by the Fraser Institute to rank elementary schools.
A random-sample test would not provide school-by-school results. Nor would it give parents information about whether their students are meeting or exceeding provincial expectations.
The Liberals have defended the FSA by arguing that parents want more information about their children’s performance, not less. But shortly before the 2013 provincial election, the government announced that two deans of education – Kris Magnusson of SFU and Blye Frank of UBC – would lead a review of all assessment practices, including provincial exams and the FSA.
The NDP, which appeared poised to win the election at that point, had said one of its priorities was to end the census-style FSA and return to a random-sample test. (The NDP, when last in power, had introduced the census tests.)
But the deans, in their first report to government, said their group was unable to reach a consensus on whether the FSA should continue as is. They asked for more time to continue the review.
One of the challenges for those who oppose the test is that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province’s influential representative for children and youth, and Dr. Perry Kendall, the provincial health officer, support the FSA. The First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC) has also supported the FSA in the past, although their position today is less clear.
The 2014 FSA is set for Jan. 13 to Feb. 21. Total test time is five hours, and schools decide when they will occur during that time frame. The Education Ministry says parents will receive their students’ results by March 31.
The ministry also provides sample questions and sample tests on its website so that parents may help their children get ready for the assessment. “Further prepare your child by assuring him or her that the FSA does not count toward a report card mark,” the website states. “Every student should feel free to relax and do his or her best.”
Parents who want to withdraw their children from the FSA will have different experiences depending on their school and district. Some principals will try to persuade those parents to change their minds in keeping with the ministry’s position that the test is not optional; other schools will have a laissez-faire approach. (The ministry insists students may be excused only for specific reasons, such as illness or family emergencies.)
Vancouver school district, for example, takes the position that parents have a choice, and last year it had one of the highest non-participation rates in the province. Roughly one-third of students did not write the tests, which calls the FSA results for that district into question.
In Surrey, the largest school district, the non-participation rate was 10-12 per cent. Abbotsford had one of the lowest non-participation rates at 6-7 per cent.
Results from the FSA have changed little over the past few years, which leaves some wondering whether the tests really are being used as intended. Questions are also being asked about how standardized tests mesh with the province’s move toward personalized learning.
I am a guest blogger for BCCPAC and the information presented here does not represent in any way the views of the organization.