The relevancy of FSA testing in schools today

Where does FSA testing really serve a purpose if the information is not used in ways that help kids?

Lake Cowichan Secondary Student Leah Hudson prepares to present her graduation folder.

Lake Cowichan Secondary Student Leah Hudson prepares to present her graduation folder.

Is FSA testing an outdated, unnecessary procedure?

The Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) is a set of annual provincial tests given to Grade 4 and 7 students in reading comprehension, writing, and numeracy. These tests do not count toward students’ marks.

In spite of recent allusions in the media about discontinuing or at least re-vamping the FSA tests in the future, testing in BC schools will be going ahead again this year.

“The parents of each of the three schools — Grade 4s at ABG and Palsson, and the Grade 7s at the middle school — have all been sent home with notifications to say the schools will be writing it, and to give them the dates that it will happen,” confirmed BC Teachers’ Federation Local 66 (Lake Cowichan) president Chris Rolls.

As well, Rolls said there is a letter from the BCTF accompanying it that talks about how teachers do a lot of pertinent testing related to the programs that they teach, and how the FSA is not necessarily a reflection of that teaching.

As a representative of the teachers’ union, Rolls says she and many other teachers believe that FSA testing is outdated, that it serves no purpose in furthering children’s education, and that it is important for parents to realize that they have a choice in whether or not their child writes it.

“The Ministry (of Education) curriculum has moved toward doing things in different ways, and to doing assessment for learning,” she commented. “Which means giving the kids lots of opportunities to work together, to work co-operatively, to work on many outcomes over many different subjects all at the same time.”

Rolls says teachers now put the emphasis on students learning how to work together, and getting them to use other sources of information.

“If you look at what the FSA is actually used for,” she chided, “it comes down to the Fraser Institute and the ranking of schools, and that’s not what teachers want because you’re not really comparing apples and apples, you’re comparing apples and oranges.”

The logic behind her statement being that schools in different areas of the province are in different financial situations, and have different socio-economic advantages — especially where private schools are concerned. Even among just Cowichan Valley schools, there are different financial areas throughout the district.

“You’re looking at have- and have-not schools,” she explained. “And you’re looking at different needs of the kids in different communities.”

Overall, Rolls said the number of parents who prefer to withdraw their children from testing has increased.

“These (noticifications) have been standard procedure for the last few years,” explained Rolls. “Some parents choose to withdraw their kids from the testing, some choose to leave them in.”

Not only is the testing considered to be outdated, different factors that can affect the outcome of FSA testing aren’t taken into account. For example, some of the material on the tests may not be covered in the school’s curriculum until May or June, therefore testing in January is premature.

“If the tests actually allowed teachers all over the province to use the information and better the education,” opined Rolls, “or to get more programs for the kids based on the information, that would be a useful test.”

Essentially all it does, she feels, is take away the time teachers could be doing more teaching.

“It takes away that valuable time and it really puts a lot of stress on the kids.”

Some of the BCTF’s arguments against the testing as listed on the letters being sent home with all school children are:

FSA tests are expensive to develop and administer;

FSA tests do not help students learn, or teachers teach;

FSA tests take valuable time away from richer and more meaningful learning;

FSA tests take valuable resources away from the classroom;

Results are misused to rank schools and promote privatization;

FSA data does not provide real help to students, parents, or schools.

Only children who have a form signed by their parent or guardian for may be excused from writing the provincial tests.