Grade 4 and 7 students across B.C. started writing tests that assess their reading comprehension, writing and mathematical ability Monday. But some parents say children shouldn't have to write the exams that are used by the conservative Fraser Institute think tank in its annual and controversial ranking of schools.
Vancouver's District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) recently surveyed parent representatives about the Foundation Skills Assessment, which the Ministry of Educations says is meant to help the province, school districts, schools and school planning councils evaluate student achievement and plan for improvement.
Sixty per cent of survey respondents agreed with DPAC's past position that parents should get to choose whether their children write the FSA. Sixty-six parent leaders from 39 schools responded to an online survey over the winter holidays. The Ministry of Education requires that every Grade 4 and 7 student in B.C. write the FSA. It states students can only be excused from the assessments for illness, family emergency or extenuating circumstances. DPAC chair Colin Redfern said parents can't force children to take the test.
Two-thirds of Vancouver students wrote the FSA last year compared to 84 per cent across the province. Redfern says the Fraser Institute's rankings stigmatize schools and neighbourhoods and some use the FSAs to unfairly assess teachers. He said some teachers end up teaching to the test.
Education Minister Don McRae couldn't speak to the Courier but his opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun on Monday said an assessment of every student is essential. "It allows program decisions at the school, the district, and the provincial level to be made based on accurate data. As a teacher, I found the practice of ranking schools inappropriate and regrettable. Now, as Minister of Education, I still feel the same," his piece read. "Using random samples for the FSA would make it very difficult to get the level of detail we obtain from all our students including aboriginal students, English-language learners and students with special needs."
Redfern argues the FSA isn't used as intended. "School districts don't get more money, districts don't use them in their district plans, schools don't use them in their school plans, it's just this political football now," he said. Redfern says Vancouver's DPAC recently met with DPACs across the Lower Mainland.
"They're tired of people coming up and ask for their opinion and when they see it reiterated back to them it's not what they said. It's in line with that political entity's policy," he said. "And the reason I say that political entity, there's more than just governments at play here."