B.C. students in Grades 4 and 7 will be writing standardized tests this month and next in reading, writing and numeracy amid continuing arguments by adults about whether the tests are worthwhile.
Known as the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), the tests are intended to provide a snapshot of student performance in B.C. that will help the Education Ministry, school districts, schools and school planning councils identify strengths and address weaknesses in the system.
The tests, which take 4.5 hours to write, will be administered until Feb. 20. The ministry says it will deliver confidential reports to parents before the end of March, advising them whether their students are meeting, exceeding or not meeting expectations in those key subjects.
Results from these tests do not count for grades.
The ministry also produces FSA reports for schools and school districts. Detailed reports indicating which skills might still need attention in each school can be found on the website of Edudata Canada, a UBC research centre.
In addition to providing data to assist with school improvement, the FSA results are also used by researchers studying aboriginal student achievement, special needs, child development, school choice and school effectiveness, the ministry says.
The FSA has been the subject of debate for years, and that discussion became particularly intense after the Fraser Institute began in 2003 to use the results annually to rank schools.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) and other education partners contend that the rankings are unscientific and invalid because no single set of tests can define a school. The union prefers a random-sample test that would still provide an external measure of student performance province-wide but would deny the Fraser Institute the detailed data it needs to rank schools.
For the FSA data to be relevant, the ministry requires all students (except those with exceptional special needs and those who can’t speak English) to participate. But parents may seek exemptions when there is a family emergency, a lengthy illness or “other extenuating circumstances.”
The BCTF regularly asks parents to use that last excuse to withdraw their children from the tests and last year the provincial participation rate averaged 84 per cent. In some districts, such as Vancouver and Sooke, roughly one in three students didn’t write the tests.
BCCPAC supports the FSA but, like other education partners, opposes the Fraser Institute’s rankings. In recent years, it has passed resolutions urging the government to:
– Continue releasing FSA results to parents, schools and school districts but not to the general public “in order to stop outside organizations from using/manipulating the data to support their needs.”
– Respect the right of parents to decide whether their students should participate in the tests.
– Meet with parent and teacher representatives to discuss how to restore confidence in the FSA.
– Follow up on poor FSA results and offer schools assistance in addressing problems identified by the tests.
More details are available in the BCCPAC information kit.