This year the controversial test has been delayed, but teachers want it shutdown
By Luana Ross, Contributor
The Foundation Skills Assessment tests do not count toward a student’s official transcript grades.
The BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has advised parents to pull their children from the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests this year. The teacher’s union has been campaigning against the FSAs for 15 of the 20 years the test has existed. The BCTF claims that the test unfairly publicly ranks and shames schools; brings students unnecessary stress; takes class time away from other important subjects; is costly (at least half a million dollars is spent by the province); and has an agenda in ranking private schools higher than public schools.
The test is often criticized for being politicized. Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association President Trevor Takasaki emphasizes on the point of stress: “This year, COVID-19 has caused enormous anxiety for students and teachers alike, and taking significant time from an already chaotic year to write these tests just adds further anxiety.” Takasaki goes on to highlight that the test does not consider that public schools have many more ESL and special needs students which will modify the scoring.
Teri Mooring, BCTF President, disagrees that the FSAs have much value at all, explaining that they “are not a reliable measurement of individual progress.” She explains that parents and caregivers often are against the push for increased test participation as well, and the pandemic invites a whole host of hardships that can skew the results of this year’s test. While the BC Ministry of Education does not treat the test as optional and expects most students to participate, the BCTF explains that caregivers have many options if they want to prevent their child from taking the test.
Usually the FSAs are taken in fall; this year, the test was initially postponed to January to ensure that schools had set up safe environments—but now the test will be taken between February 16 and March 12. The BC Ministry of Education also states that “students have always had the option of writing the FSA remotely if an appropriate invigilator for the assessment is approved by the local school principal.”
As mentioned by Mooring, these tests do not determine any funding or lead to intervention. As reported by the Abbotsford News, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association President Winona Waldron stated that “[the union would] be willing to see some sort of standardized testing in a regular year, where the results weren’t published, and the results were tied to funding.” Additionally, these tests do not count toward a student’s official transcript grade. Test participation has hovered around 50 percent; in recent years the test has seen some small growth in numbers at 52 percent participation.
Teri Mooring states that the test is partly a bragging point for realtors when selling houses near private schools, but conservative Fraser Institute defends the test as a useful tool in determining the progress of students across BC and understanding what areas individual students may need a little help in. Former Director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute Peter Cowley previously stated that the test allows “schools to compete for their betterment.” The BC Government also highlights that the test is not used to rank schools and is “carefully developed and continuously evaluated based on evidence-based best practices as recommended by national and international assessment experts in the ‘Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing’ (published collaboratively by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council of Measurement in Education).”
Some speculate that this is a power struggle between BCTF and the BC Ministry of Education. A 2011 article from NEWS 1130 outlines the intensity of the argument 10 years ago; the Vancouver School Board stated that they didn’t want to be in the middle of the heated dispute back then. It seems the same intensity exists today and will continue to in the future of BC education.