Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustees discuss value of FSA tests

First Nations Leadership Council criticizes “targeted attack” on foundation skills assessment tests

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin file)

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools. (News Bulletin file)

The value of controversial provincial tests was debated by Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools trustees at their education committee meeting last night.

The B.C. Ministry of Education’s foundation skills assessment is administered to Grade 4 and 7 students annually, testing reading and math skills. The school district teachers’ union has spoken against the FSAs in the past, pointing to how results are used by the Fraser Institute to rank schools.

Test participation and correspondence from provincial Indigenous leaders speaking in favour of testing were on the education committee’s May 4 meeting agenda.

The First Nations Leadership Council wrote to B.C. education minister Jennifer Whiteside last November, stating it was concerned about what it referred to as an “ongoing targeted attack campaign,” specifically the B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s efforts to have the testing cancelled. Sharing test data is also part of a “commitment in the B.C. Tripartite Education Agreement signed by the B.C. Ministry of Education, Indigenous Services Canada, and the First Nations Education Steering Committee,” the letter noted, adding that the commitments are based on the recognition that literacy and numeracy results are important indicators of the educational success of First Nation learners, as per the United Nation’s Indigenous rights declaration.

Trustee Naomi Bailey said it was “an unavoidable political topic” and using test scores to measure schools against each other has had “devastating effects.”

“Ironically, one of the schools that was really decimated over a number of years in our school district was a school that was comprised of 60 per cent Indigenous students and in a community where the school had been thriving in many other aspects, and if you took the kids that were actually working at grade level, they actually did very well on these FSA tests, but there was a large body of students in classrooms that were barely meeting expectations and it affected the overall score,” said Bailey.

She was also surprised the steering committee embraced the FSAs. There is other data the school district can use, she said.

“I know that we do assessments and those assessments aren’t mired in political controversy and I think there’s a lot of work that district staff have put in to these tests and I think they’re very valid and useful,” said Bailey. “But I’m willing to listen and hear other opinions as well, so this might be something we could put some time aside to have deeper discussions about this.”

At the meeting, Jacquie Poulin, school district director of instruction, learning and innovation, said participation rates are an important factor in the reliability of test data.

While close to 73 per cent of Grade 4s and 71 per cent of Grade 7s took tests in 2019-20, according to Poulin, there was a significant drop to 54 per cent and 47 per cent respectively for 2020-21 when tests were postponed twice. In 2021-22, 62 per cent of Grade 4s and 58 per cent of Grade 7s took the test.

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