More opting out of Foundation Skills Assessment

Maple Ridge teachers’ union opposes tests, asks parents to boycott exam

The controversial Foundations Skills Assessment is once again being administered to students across the province, and the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association is again asking local parents to boycott the exam.

All students in Grades 4 and 7 in B.C. are asked to take the tests, which do not count for letter grades. The tests are touted by the education ministry to be an annual assessment in the core academic skills of reading comprehension, writing and numeracy.

But public school teachers say the exam is an annual advertisement for private schools, and asks parents to exercise their right to have their child opt out.

The tests are being administered between Jan. 12 and Feb. 20.

MRTA president George Serra pointed out that last year School District No. 42 moved away from issuing letter grades to elementary students, preferring a new “student-inclusive conferencing model” for evaluation. There is more emphasis on student self assessment, with the key being meetings between parent, teacher and student.

Given that, he said, parents should balk at their children being administered “the epitome of a standardized test,” said Serra.

In a school board meeting on Jan. 14, trustee Ken Clarkson asked school district staff whether principals would be phoning parents who opt out of the test, as they have in the past.

Serra said the participation in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district is dropping to a point where the data collected will not be reliable.

Clarkson echoed that.

“Admin here has recognized that with the number of students writing here, it’s a bit of a lost cause,” he said.

Asked how low local participation has dropped, SD42 director of instruction David Vandergugten responded:

“Participation rates differ from school to school. We have found that our participation rates have been consistent from year to year, but we won’t know the FSA participation rate for this year until we see how many parents have chosen to exempt their children from the exam.”

Public school teachers see the tests as a tool that the Fraser Institute, a public policy think tank, uses to tout private schools as superior to the public school system. Based on the tests, it ranks all elementary schools in the province, from one to almost 900.

The top 13 schools listed in the Fraser Institute rankings are private schools, including Maple Ridge’s own Meadowridge.

In fact, the Fraser Institute has used the test scores to rank the three private schools in Maple Ridge highest in the 2012-2013 school year, with scores ranging from 9.7 to 7.9 out of 10, while local public school scores ranged from a high of 6.6 to a low of three. The rankings are based on the FSA test scores.

At the same time, the government does not use the test scores to apply more teachers or other resources to public schools that get low scores on the FSA.

“I might be able to live with it if they did,” Serra said. “But nothing positive, from our perspectives, comes from these tests.”