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School districts oppose standardized testing

Trustees urge provincial government to keep assessment results private
foundation skills
RANKING REJECTION: School boards throughout the province, including Powell River’s School District 47, are opposed to provincial Foundation Skills Assessment results being released publicly. Contributed photo

New Foundation Skills Assessments were completed at all School District 47 elementary schools throughout November and results will be released publicly in the spring.

Administered province-wide, the assessments are an early indicator of student reading, writing and numeracy skills, and provide information on student performance that is intended to be used to support decision-making in classrooms.

The assessments have been controversial since being introduced as a form of standardized testing by BC Ministry of Education in the late 1990s.

Some of the strongest opposition has come from BC School Trustees Association. According to association president Gordon Swan in a letter to Ministry of Education, school trustees recognize appropriate measures of student achievement are required, but do not want results released publicly.

The association’s specific objection is directed toward the Fraser Institute and how the conservative think-tank interprets scores for its annual school rankings.

“Through this one particular assessment, that's how you get ranked,” said School District 47 board chair Doug Skinner. "If the kids in your school are scoring well in reading, writing and arithmetic, that's their only form of assessment to say the school itself is okay. All of the teachers and the majority of boards are saying it's unfair to judge a school on that one assessment.”

According to criticism shared by other districts in letters sent to the education ministry, rankings are harmful and cause negative discussion and evaluation of staff and students.

"What they're saying more than anything is that teachers as a whole get tired of having schools rated by the Fraser Institute using FSA marks,” said Skinner.

The criticism is “complete nonsense,” according to Fraser Institute director of school performance studies Peter Cowley.

“If you're interested in system-wide improvement, you need measures,” said Cowley. “You have to be able to say, ‘Look, some schools are doing better than ours consistently over time. If they can do better, why can't we?’”

Fraser Institute rankings compare schools with results showing improvement, decline or stability over five years. Rankings use a sliding scale of zero to 10, with 10 being the highest.

Skinner said Powell River and area elementary schools usually rank in the middle.

In 2015/2016 rankings, Assumption School had a rating of 7.3, followed by Edgehill (6.1), James Thomson (5.2), Westview (4.7), Henderson (4.4) and Kelly Creek (4.0).

Prior to the skills assessments being discontinued for secondary schools, Brooks had been trending downward; it ranked 273 out of 293 high schools in 2015/2016.

“I look at it and say, ‘We have some pretty special schools in this particular district,” and I get annoyed with that kind of assessment,’” said Skinner.

Cowley argues that rankings encourage higher performance.

“You find schools serving similar populations that are constantly doing better,” said Cawley. “Why do you want to know about those schools? Because you'll find that, in fact, higher performance is possible.”

BC Teachers’ Federation call the Fraser Institute rankings “unscientific and ideologically motivated,” according to the Powell River District Teachers’ Association president Ken Holley.

"Teachers believe the purpose of assessment is to support and promote learning,” said Holley. "If they’re not useful for that, then why do them?"

Holley added that report cards are already available as assessments for student skills and achievement.

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