Skills assessment tests see falling participation

NANAIMO – Administrators saw a 17-per cent decrease over last year in Grade 7 students taking the tests.

The Nanaimo school district saw a significant decrease in participation in Foundation Skills Assessment testing in 2014-15.

The provincial tests, administered yearly to Grade 4 and 7 students, examines reading comprehension, writing and math skills.

According to numbers from the school district, 647 Grade 7 students took the test this year, a 17-per cent decrease from the 884 who wrote the test in 2013-14.

There was only a two-per cent decrease between 2013-14 and 2012-13.

Only 716 Grade 4 students wrote the test this year, down from the 830 who took it the previous year, which equals a 14-per cent drop in participation. There was a four-per cent decrease between 2013-14 and 2012-13.

At the June 3 district education committee meeting, John Blain, school superintendent, suggested possible reasons for the decrease.

“It could be due to the job action and the unrest that was happening at that time … the board took a different slant on how we work with our schools,” said Blain. “Principals therefore, weren’t [phoning parents] and some of the things like that.

“So we would have to go through another year or so to be able to really specifically find what we think is the major cause to that drop and we won’t know whether or not it was a provincial thing until the rest of the data comes out,” he said.

Parents can request to have their children exempted from the test due to unforeseen and extremely disruptive circumstances beyond the student’s control.

Charlene McKay, district parent advisory council president, said her group didn’t take a stance on testing and whether parents withdrew their children was an individual choice.

The skills assessment attracts controversy, as results are used by The Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank, to rank the province’s schools.

Mike Ball, president of the Nanaimo teachers’ union, said opinions on the assessment are changing.

“Parents are understanding that the tests are no longer really valid and important. The use of them given to the Fraser Institute to rank schools is pretty abhorrent … they don’t count for grades and the time can be better spent in school on other more important educational issues,” said Ball.