Controversial FSAs administered for SD51 students in Grades 4 and 7 until Feb. 22

The controversial Foundation Skills Assessment test is set for all School District 51 students in Grades 4 and 7 through Feb. 22.

Perley Elementary School Principal Kevin Argue sees Foundation Skills Assessment testing as a supplement to the assessments regularly done by teachers.

Perley Elementary School Principal Kevin Argue sees Foundation Skills Assessment testing as a supplement to the assessments regularly done by teachers.

The controversial Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) is scheduled for all School District 51 (SD51) students in Grades 4 and 7 through  to Feb. 22.

The province-wide assessment consists of three tests in reading, writing and numeracy skills.

The value of the test has been questioned over the years by educators, especially since the results have been used by the Fraser Institute to rank schools in the institute’s annual school ranking’s report card.

Both SD51 Superintendent Michael Strukoff and Perley Elementary School Principal Kevin Argue see the FSA as a supplement to the variety of assessments regularly done by teachers.

“This is a snapshot,” Strukoff said. “It’s not the be all and end all but it shows us some places where we need to do some work.” He added, “We do our own reading and writing assessment from Grade 1 to Grade 9 in the fall and the spring and we have a numeracy assessment of our own, as well what was developed by a district on Vancouver Island.”

Strukoff was pleased with the overall performance of SD51 students in the 2011 FSA as indicated by ministry statistics. “For the most part, we were pleased with our results; we were above provincial averages,” he said.

Argue said that the tests primarily serve to confirm teachers’ assessments of their students in a general way.

“For the most part, you are usually aware of the student’s level before the final test that you give them,” he said. “There are a few anomalies but for the most part, it reinforces what the teachers know. My teachers day-to-day work with students is a much more valuable piece of information to do our planning on but this is one where you can compare provincially where you are at, which is something you can’t do with the Grade 4 monthly math test.”

Peter Cowley, the person responsible for the Fraser Institute’s annual school report cards believes the FSA serves an important purpose for both parents and educators.

He feels that the standardized province-wide tests are the best, most objective measure of student, and therefore school, performance.

“That’s the only way you are going to be able to compare schools. We do the report card so that parents can compare one school with another on some objective measure of something,” he said. “Having that kind of testing benefits all the kids who go to elementary school in B.C.  Without these tests, you have no way to determine which schools do a good job, which are successful and which aren’t.”

Cowley maintained that comparing schools is vital to improving education for all. “Of course there should be measures; of course there should be province-wide tests. It is so simple and so obvious that one worries a great deal about people who say we should get rid of it,” he explained.

The FSAs’ importance is seen differently by Argue.

“We can predict how many students are not meeting expectations pretty accurately before that test. We have more local information, which is probably more accurate than a one-day snapshot. The daily barometer (of student performance) is what guides teachers’ practice,” he said.

Cowley sees the school report card as the only true measure of accountability that is available.

“In the report card you will see year after year, those schools showing low performance and no improvement. Somebody needs to take responsibility for that and then once they’ve taken responsibility for it, they’ve got to do something about it because no school should be allowed to say, ‘We can’t do better. We can’t improve.’ You don’t want to sell kids short. Let’s find a way to help them start improving,” he said.

When asked if it was valid to compare a public school in northern B.C. to a private school like Crofton House in Vancouver, Cowley said that wasn’t the point of the report card.

The most important comparisons that parents and educators should make, he said, are between schools with similar demographics, and that such comparisons were a strong argument to make sure the FSA continues to be administered.

“Say the ministry in future governments gets rid of the tests, which I sincerely hope they don’t, and you ask them, ‘We’re interested in the best schools in the province, from the point-of-view of the ones that have done the best job in getting great results for kids that come from poor families. Which ones are they?’ Your minister will not be able to tell you. Now is that wise to get into a position where you won’t be able to find best practices because there is no measure of it?” he asked.

Susan Lambert, president of the British Columbia Teachers Federation, said in a recent CBC radio interview that the FSA was in complete contradiction of the current Ministry of Education policy calling for innovation, creativity and personalization.

Norm Sabourin, the Boundary District Teachers’ Association president was unavailable for comment.