Nanaimo participation in FSA increasing

More Grades 4 and 7 students in Nanaimo wrote the foundation skills assessment tests this year.

More Grades 4 and 7 students in Nanaimo wrote the foundation skills assessment tests this year.

About 15 per cent of students did not participate in the provincewide tests this year, down from about 20 per cent in 2010 and about 25 per cent in 2009.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation, which opposes the tests, sent letters home to parents this year explaining their concerns with the tests and urging parents to ask that their child not write the exam.

Derek DeGear, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said schools are becoming more insistent that students write the FSAs.

“For the past two years, principals have been working really hard to bully parents into allowing their children to write it,” he said.

The tests are given to all Grades 4 and 7 students to determine if they are meeting expectations in reading, writing and math.

The union’s main objection to the tests is the way the results are used by the Fraser Institute to rank schools.

Nanaimo’s FSA results continue to lag between four and 10 per cent below the provincial average and ministry data show no significant improvements or declines since 2008.

DeGear said this is not surprising, given that Nanaimo is one of the poorer school districts in the province and has had to cut services and supports for students each year to balance the budget.

He said the tests fail to measure student growth over the year and cannot be used as a tool to improve learning because teachers don’t get the results until the end of the year.

“[The B.C. public school system is] following the U.S. model – underfund the system, but test and rank to make sure accountability is there,” he said. “If we want our students to succeed and improve, we have to invest in our kids. The government has taken $300 million a year out of education.”

Carol McNamee, vice-chairwoman of Nanaimo school board, said standardized testing is a good thing when the purpose is to inform instruction, but the FSAs are written partway through the year when the students have not covered all of the curriculum yet.

“Lots of teachers teach to the test; lots of teachers don’t,” she said.