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Nelson teachers would applaud changes to FSA tests
When Grade 4 and 7 students in the Kootenay Lake School District write their Foundation Skills Assessment tests this month, it could be the last time the controversial exams are given in their current form.
According to BC Education Minister Don McRae, there will be no change to the program this school year but he said he is open to discussing the program with the BC Teachers’ Federation, school administrators and parents for years ahead.
“Any time we have a form of assessment, I think it’s really important that after you give it, if you’re going to give it again, you continually look at it to see if it can be done better or more efficiently, and meet the needs of the students, the parents and the educational system,” McRae said.
The issue is sure to be debated in this spring’s provincial election, as the NDP campaigns to scrap universal testing and look for a new way to evaluate student performance.
Similar to their provincial counterpart, the Nelson District Teachers’ Association has campaigned against these tests for years.
“We’ve resisted the way in which these tests are conducted, the amount of time it takes out of the classroom setting and ultimately, and everyone is in agreement, how the statistics can be misused and clearly don’t represent what’s going on in the school community,” NDTA president Tom Newell said.
One of the problems with FSA testing is the annual controversy over the Fraser Institute school rankings based on test scores. The rankings are intended to help parents track their local school performance over time, but attention is typically focused on comparing schools.
“This has been quite strongly felt by the Grade 4 and 7 teachers. They’ve been very strong in saying they don’t like the way the tests are administered, the way it disadvantages children that struggle,” said Newell. “It doesn’t really reflect how the students are really doing in a lot of areas in the school.”
Should the tests meet their demise, it would be good news for the teacher’s union representative. Newell believes testing could evolve to become more illustrative of what is happening in the education system.
“I would like to see more of a model that looks at the system but is more random and less identified by school and by student,” he said.
According to Kootenay Lake School District superintendent Jeff Jones, listening to teachers is an effective and important means of assessment but it doesn’t give a complete picture.
“We rely heavily on the expertise, skill and background of our teachers,” he said. “With all assessment it’s important to have another view as well... We need to have a realistic provincial standard assessment that we can rely on that’s accurate and that will help us as a province to align our resources to support student needs.”
The Kootenay Lake School District reflects well despite the Fraser Institute’s use of the data, which Jones opposes. He is pleased to hear McRae say that there could be better ways to evaluate the system.
“I think that a lot of educators in the province would agree to say that there are other ways to assess children and maintain a standardized assessment. I would be most supportive of an exploration into what that might look like in the province,” said Jones.
While the FSA tests are flexible and welcome some creativity, they “parachute in” and often aren’t related to learning children are doing at that particular time. They also don’t “welcome the diverse way that students are encouraged to represent themselves.”
“I don’t know how you standardize that,” Jones said.
This year, students taking the tests of literacy and math skills are only excused due to family emergency, illness or other circumstances beyond the control of the student. The tests are given in all public schools across BC.