British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has expressed concerns about the annual foundation skills assessment (FSA) test being administered this month and those concerns are echoed locally.
In an open letter to parents, BCTF president Teri Mooring stated that despite the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to impact every aspect of people’s lives, the BC government is going ahead this month with a standardized test called the FSA. Mooring stated this test is given to students in grades four and seven.
“BC teachers have long opposed the FSA because it takes time away from meaningful teaching and learning, creates needless stress and anxiety, and the results are used to inappropriately rank schools,” stated Mooring.
Powell River and District Teachers’ Association president Izi Loveluck said as both a former fourth and seventh grade teacher, she has seen the effects of the FSA on students who, for various reasons, struggle with reading and writing.
“There are also some fundamental problems with students having to write the assessment for which they are not ready, and this during a pandemic, when student mental health is a very real concern,” said Loveluck. “Any assessment is a snapshot of the level at which a student is working. Teachers know that performance varies depending on many factors, and teachers are best qualified to examine a variety of student performance samples to provide the most accurate assessment of their progress.”
Loveluck said the impacts of releasing data, when it is misused by the Fraser Institute to rank schools, is unacceptable. Additionally, no funding is tied to the results to help support schools where students clearly struggle according to the assessment, she added.
“The cost of developing the FSA, printing booklets, administering, and scoring would be better spent on providing additional funding to school districts to provide support for developing readers and writers,” said Loveluck.
School District 47 superintendent of the board of education Dr. Jay Yule said the FSA is mandated by the provincial ministry of education and it is not optional for the board of education to make its own decisions.
“We have taken measures to ensure any student who is medically or emotionally compromised during this pandemic will not have to write this assessment or any others,” said Yule.
In a letter to parents and guardians of students in grades four and seven, dated January 4, 2021, Yule stated that the district believes strongly in the importance of effective assessment, which includes testing, to inform and guide student learning and instruction.
“We are therefore committed to developing and using various assessment instruments and practices that provide a combined picture of each student’s performance,” Yule stated in the letter.
However, the letter also contains a request to excuse a student from participating in the FSA, although it had to be signed by January 15.
Mooring, in her letter, stated there was nothing normal about the last school year or the current one.
“Teachers, students, and families have been forced to constantly adjust to changing rules and conditions,” she stated. “It has been tough on everyone. We shouldn’t be adding to the issues and challenges our students and teachers are facing.
“With everything going on, we believe students’ physical, mental and emotional health should come before data collection. A global pandemic is no time to force young students to take a stressful standardized test on shared computers when very little benefit, if any at all, ever comes from the results. In addition, the FSAs are not a reliable measurement of individual progress.”
Mooring stated that unfortunately, school districts and administrators have come under intensified pressure from the ministry of education to boost participation rates, often against the wishes of parents and caregivers.
Mooring stated if a child is learning at school, parents should send in a request to withdraw them from the FSA. There is a template letter at bctf.ca/parents.
If children are learning at home, Mooring recommends not sending them to school to write the test and not to feel any pressure that they must do it online.
“If you feel pressured to have your child write the test against your wishes, assert your right to withdraw your child for extenuating circumstances,” stated Mooring “There is a global pandemic, after all.”
Mooring stated the pandemic is impacting students and families in many different ways. As a consequence, data from this standardized test will be skewed, flawed, and of no use to teachers, she added.
“They won’t provide any information about student performance that your child’s teacher doesn’t already know,” stated Mooring. “They don’t result in any increased support or funding.
“If you are concerned about how your child is doing in school, I encourage you to talk to their classroom teacher.”