School District 8 has joined a growing chorus of education organizations across B.C. protesting how an annual provincial education assessment is used by the Fraser Institute.
At its Jan. 12 meeting, SD8’s board of trustees voted in favour of a letter to the education minister Jennifer Whiteside that requested the results of the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) only be made available to district staff and parents.
The assessments, which this year will be held Feb. 15 to March 12, test Grade 4 and 7 students on reading, writing and numeracy.
The results aren’t counted toward a student’s marks, but they are used every year by the Fraser Institute to rank public and independent schools in the province.
SD8 superintendent Christine Perkins argues the FSA provides an incomplete picture of a school and the performance of its students.
“Sound educational assessment, to me, is based on a variety of tools,” said Perkins. “No one magic measure like the FSA serves to deliver a complete and accurate picture of student learning.”
Other districts such as SD5 in Cranbrook and in the Central Okanagan, as well as teachers’ associations in Chilliwack and Greater Victoria, have also sent the ministry similar letters. The B.C. Teachers’ Federation meanwhile has asked parents to withdraw their children from the assessments.
Perkins said the assessments are useful for showing a student’s progress, but shouldn’t be interpreted further than that except confidentially with a student and their parents.
“Assessment has to be meaningful, it has to be purposeful and it shouldn’t, in the end, cause any harm, and when you start ranking you cause harm,” she said. “It’s supposed to be helpful in a positive way. So to me, they’re harmful the way the Fraser Institute uses them.”
The rankings are anything but harmful according to one of the people who invented them.
Peter Cowley is a senior fellow at Fraser Institute who retired in 2018 but still contributes to the rankings. Along with Stephen Easton, Cowley built the first rankings for the think tank in 1998 when it released its inaugural list of B.C. secondary schools.
Cowley says the rankings are popular among parents who want to decide where their children should enrol, or to compare their school to others.
“Information is power,” said Cowley. “And what these foundation skills assessments do, and all the other province-wide assessments that are conducted by the provinces, they give people information that can be used to improve the education at individual schools in individual grades.”
Cowley conceded more factors than just FSA should be considered when assessing schools — he suggested economic status and the inclusion of students who speak English as a second language.
But he also believes the three assessments a child completes in Grade 4 and three more in Grade 7 provide an adequate picture of progress, or the lack thereof.
“The question is whether or not you’ll do anything about it,” he said. “I can tell you that parents whose children are in a school that is declining on any indicator are more than happy to ask the tough questions …
“It’s really important stuff that when somebody says we should just keep it quiet, why would they say that? What benefit to students would come from making these data at the school level, the district level and the provincial level only available to certain people?”
If districts get their way, a Ministry of Education spokesperson told the Nelson Star that FSA data is still accessible under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“We share the concerns of many parents, students and educational partners about school rankings,” said the spokesperson. “It’s unfortunate that FSAs have been used this way by third parties as this is not the purpose of these assessments.”
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