Foundational Skills Assessment: Fraser Report Released Today

Today the Fraser Report released its "school report card," rating independent and public schools across BC. Perhaps it was the recent outcry against the tests by the BC teacher's union that led the results to be somewhat downplayed, compared with other years, in The Vancouver Sun, which has, in years past displayed the results in banner headlines. Today it was run as a minor story. A West Van school and 19 independent schools came in "first," on the Foundational Skills Assessment test, but Patti Bacchus of the Vancouver School Board said, "it doesn't provide an accurate picture. Schools are much more complex organizations than you can accurately represent on that narrow piece of information." The story below that appeared in [The Tyee] came out on January 13, after the Vancouver School Board said it would not insist students take the tests, and investigates many sides of the issue.

by Linda Solomon
On the website of the Fraser Institute, Christmas music tinkles as the conservative think tank's fellows express their wishes for the coming year. Peter Cowley, whose title is director of school performance results, hopes for the privatization of more schools.

"I wish that Ministries of Education across Canada would remember that they are just that, ministries of education," Cowley intones. "Not simply ministries of public schools. I wish that they would introduce policies which would encourage many more private schools to establish themselves across the country. By doing so they will ensure that many Canadian families will be able to find a school that meets their kids' unique needs."

In another section of the Vancouver-based organization's website, Crowley appears in a longer video promoting how the Fraser Institute uses the results from the government's province-wide standardized testing system, a test known as the Foundational Skills Assessment (FSA). For the last nine years, the Fraser Institute has used the test results to create a ranking system for B.C.'s schools and this "school report card" appears under banner headlines on the front pages of newspapers across the province.

"Yes, it does create winners and losers," Crowley says in the video. Of teachers and parents who oppose the tests, he says: "They don't want the schools to compete for their betterment. I find that absurd."

But last night Vancouver's school board trustees signaled it takes take seriously those who oppose the test. The board voted to send a letter providing information about the FSA, including ministry-approved reasons a parent can have their child excused from taking the test.

In 2007, in 13 B.C. elementary schools, less than half the students took the Grade 7 reading part of the test, and in 26 more schools, a quarter of the students opted out of that portion.

The long simmering fight over the worth of the test has for years pitted the Fraser Institute and B.C. Education Ministry against the B.C. Teachers Federation, both sides finding allies among parents, academics, aboriginal leaders and just about any other group with a stake in how schools can be made to work best for kids.

The argument reached a political flash point last month when the teachers union's members voted not to participate in administering the tests to students this year.

"The dispute is provincial between the Ministry of Education and the BCTF," said Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus. "What we're hearing from our parent groups is it's causing confusion and misunderstanding. We're trying to minimize distraction and conflict at the school level," she said, explaining why the board is sending out the FSA letter.

The union argues the FSA is a waste of time - 16 hours in class and extra teacher hours for grading -and of money. At least a half a million dollars goes into administering the tests, given to students across the province in Grades 4 and 7.

And union leaders say it wasn't their idea to play politics with a test supposedly intended to help strengthen public school performance. The Fraser Institute, they argue, uses the results to cast schools with poorer student populations in a bad light and to build their case that private schooling is superior.

Teacher: 'Human element does not show up'

"The BCTF's FSA campaign is not about politics," the union's president Irene Lanzinger told The Tyee. "We're not opposed to the FSA. We just want it done differently so we can put an end to the unfair ranking by the Fraser Institute. Teachers are not alone on this. Every single education partner group, including trustees, principals, superintendents and even the minister herself has spoken out against the rankings."

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