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Nanaimo district flatlining on test result improvements

Nanaimo students are not improving academically and remain behind the B.C. average.

The Education Ministry released results of the provincewide foundation skills assessment test results, which are administered annually to all Grades 4 and 7 students, on Monday.

Nanaimo results have remained virtually the same since 2008, with no significant improvements or declines, and local results in all categories except Grade 4 writing continue to lag below provincial results.

"The status quo is not acceptable," said Jamie Brennan, school board chairman. "We have to improve. It's a bit shocking, actually."

The tests measure whether students are meeting expectations in reading, writing and math. On top of the results lagging below provincial averages, Brennan was disturbed to note the sometimes wide gap between female and male students.

For example, 55 per cent of male Grade 4 students were meeting expectations in reading, compared with 67 per cent of their female counterparts.

Brennan said the FSA results are a snapshot of how two groups of students are doing and it is important to also measure how the other grades are faring, especially the primary students, as helping struggling students before they reach Grade 4 is more effective than providing interventions later when the student is already frustrated.

District staff want to develop more ongoing assessment tools, but that work was put on hold last year due to teacher job action.

"We need the participation of teachers in developing any new measures of achievement," said Brennan.

The district is also trying out a new model of providing interventions where the need is greatest through interdisciplinary teams that will travel from classroom to classroom, school to school, as needed.

The teams are funded through the district's $1.5-million Learning Improvement Fund, a new program introduced by the province this year to help deal with complex needs in classrooms.

Brennan said he hopes the school-based teams will make a difference in overall achievement levels.

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers' Association, questions the usefulness of the FSA tests, given that the results are not available for teachers to use in the same school year and Nanaimo's results appear to have flatlined.

"If the data is stable, why are we doing a test every year and spending millions of dollars?" he said. "For what purpose are we doing this? It just shows us what we already know from previous years."

Green said the tests rob students of a week of learning and yet no extra resources are devoted to struggling students.

A more productive way of holding districts accountable would include an initial assessment to identify areas where students are struggling and then a second assessment at a later date to determine if interventions worked, he said.

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