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FSA testing goes ahead

School ranking results expected in March despite controversy

In the wake of province-wide protest over Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests in schools, the Howe Sound Teachers Association (HSTA) have agreed to "comply under protest," and administer the controversial exams, said HSTA president John Hall.

That's because the FSAs are used to rank schools, said Hall, effectively pitting them against one another in a scholastic horse race.

"We agreed to comply under protest. We were willing at this point to agree to the tests if the kids could be spared being identified and schools and neighbourhoods stopped being ranked by such a tiny piece of data," he said. "The data is abused with the current system."

The provincial government's FSAs have been a point of controversy over the past several months as teachers resist what many claim is an inadequate measure of students' abilities, and a waste of valuable class time in preparing them for the exams.

The teachers' widespread refusal to administer the tests led the province to the appeal to the Labour Relations Board, which ruled they must be held. The teachers finally submitted.

But not all school staff in the Howe Sound School District oppose the measures.

Ian Kent, principal of Mamquam Elementary said the FSAs are actually a useful in terms of identifying trends and planning for growth.

"These tests only give you a quick snap shot but they do give us an indication of where our students are at," Kent said.

The FSA is an annual province-wide assessment that provides a snapshot of how well B.C. students in Grade 4 and 7 are developing reading, writing and numeracy skills.

This was the second year students in Grade 4 and 7 in the Sea to Sky Corridor took the tests in February, after being moved from a May test date in 2007. It is expected that schools, teachers and parents should have the test results by March, with an in-depth report on the test available to the school early next winter.

"The new timeline is helpful for building our school growth plan and this year we are focusing more on numeracy after last year's results," Kent said.

The province's teachers and their union, the B.C. Teachers Federation, do not support the ranking by the Fraser Institute and raised concerns that the tests create anxiety for students. At Mamquam Elementary School, students with anxiety about the FSA are exempt from taking the test, said Kent.

"We will excuse anyone who sees the test as a hardship for and we will make some adaptations such as breaking the test into small little chunks of time rather than a full hour," he said.

Dr. Rick Erickson, Howe Sound School District superintendent, said the FSA is indeed a snapshot, but the information gathered can be useful in the context of other testing. Erickson said, FSA results aside, the goal of the school district is to work with kids so they are successful.

"We use FSA results along with teacher's assessments to provide a whole picture. Then we talk to the parents and use both information from daily assessment and provincial assessment," he said.

Regardless of the controversy, Erickson said the Howe Sound School District generally does well in the FSAs, ranking at average or above average.

"The thing about statistics is that one kid can get a perfect score while another fails, giving you a 50 per cent average. It's doesn't really tell the story until you take into account the individual in the classroom."

In the end, Hall said, parents must think of the FSAs as a snapshot only. If a child's FSA results are worrying, then Hall suggests parents meet with teachers to work on a plan to ensure the student meets appropriate expectations.

"It is a snapshot, it is a picture of a moment in time along the way," said Hall. "It is not a culmination. The child's report card is the culmination of events."

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