Control ‘misuse’ of FSA marks, or get rid of the tests, says Surrey school trustee

Laurie Larsen says the ranking of schools based on standardized tests has to stop.

Control 'misuse' of FSA marks, or get rid of the tests, says Surrey school trustee

A Surrey school trustee wants the province to either stop the “misuse” of Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) results, or eliminate the controversial tests altogether and replace them with something else.

Trustee Laurie Larsen made the suggestion to her fellow board of education members at a public board meeting Thursday evening (April 18).

The FSAs are given to B.C. Grade 4 and 7 students annually and measure reading comprehension, writing and numeracy skills. The tests are administered in January and February, with individual results available to parents and teachers by late March. Overall district and school results are posted online.

The problem, said Larsen, is that organizations such as the Fraser Institute, an independent public policy research group, take the test results and rank schools provincewide based on the scores.

“They rank them and from there, parents and other people draw conclusions that shouldn’t be drawn,” argued Larsen. “The rankings are so misleading. Sometimes parents reject schools because of where they rank, when in fact that school may be the perfect school for them.”

The Ministry of Education’s own website, she noted, contains a warning not to attempt such comparisons.

“Attempting to rank schools or districts based on FSA results,” reads the web page, “invites misleading comparisons that ignore the particular circumstances that affect achievement in each school.”

The tests, said Larsen, not only don’t consider the cultural and economic diversity of a school, but also don’t take into account the province’s push toward 21st century learning or critical thinking.

“It’s an oxymoron that the government’s pushing these tests, and yet that’s not the type of learning that they’re trying to get schools to do.”

She suggested other randomized testing is much more effective and provides the same “snapshot” of achievement the government is seeking. Plus, Larsen said, teachers are experts at assessment.

“That’s their job,” she said. “They produce far better reports and remarks on those children.”

The FSAs have proven controversial since their inception more than a decade ago. Teachers have argued they consume precious instruction time and provide little valuable information. The Fraser Institute maintains the rankings – especially now that there’s several years of data to compare – provide more than a snapshot and show some schools and teachers are simply doing a better job than others, despite of advantages and disadvantages.

Larsen wants the board to contact the education ministry to express concern about use of FSA data. The matter will be discussed further at the May 9 board meeting.

Surrey North Delta Leader