FSA tests stir controversy – again

Teachers' union remains at odds with gov't-mandated exams.

A sample question from the Grade 4 numeracy portion on a Foundation Skills Assessment test.

Let the annual FSA debate begin.

With students in Grades 4 and 7 in Surrey, Delta and across B.C. poised to being writing Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests this week, the minister of education and teachers’ union charged out of the gate with their arguments for and against the multi-part exams.

Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid opened the debate with a letter to parents issued publicly Sunday morning. In it, she says the standardized math and literacy tests “show where children excel and where they struggle.”

FSAs, she said, allow caregivers to work with their child’s teacher to identify problems and tackle them early so the issues aren’t compounded in later grades.

“As a parent, you have the right to know how your child is performing,” said MacDiarmid, adding the tests also let teachers see how students in their class compare to others across the province.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) called MacDiarmid’s letter a “last-ditch effort to shore up support for the controversial testing regime.”

The union argues the FSAs do not help students learn, parents teach or provide parents worthwhile information, and consume much-needed time and resources.

“The minister is encouraging teaching to the tests, a practice that undermines the academic rigour of the curriculum,” said BCTF president Susan Lambert.

“These tests assess only a very narrow and superficial slice of the curriculum, but they take on exaggerated importance when the minister inflates their value with her open letter…”

MacDiarmid said the testing takes less than ten hours of a child’s time between kindergarten and Grade 8 and that contrary to “misinformation,” the testing is not optional.

For many years, the teachers’ union has encouraged parents to opt their children out of the FSAs if they wish. The BCTF argues figures show more parents are doing just that, with between 16 and 19 per cent of students not taking the test in 2010 as opposed to between 9 and 11 per cent not writing in 2008.

FSA testing began Monday (Jan. 17) and will continue until late February.