The annual battle over standardized testing of all Grade 4 and 7 students in B.C. heated up Tuesday with the Liberal government appearing to waffle on the issue.
In a statement attacking the NDP’s stance against the tests, the government caucus got its own position wrong by implying that the Foundation Skills Assessment is optional.
“The B.C. Liberal Government supports FSAs, because parents have a right to know how their children are doing in school,” the release said.
“If they don’t want their kids to participate, they can opt out by completing a form.”
The statement, which quoted Education Minister Don McRae, got considerable attention after it was posted on the caucus website.
Vancouver School Board chairwoman Patti Bacchus applauded the apparent policy change on the Twitter social media network.
“Kudos to @DonMcRaeMLA for respecting parent choice re whether their kids write FSAs. This is a real shift,” she said.
A short time later, however, the Liberal caucus posted an amended statement without the “opt out” reference.
Scott Sutherland, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, said the caucus misspoke.
“[There is] no change in policy,” he said. “[It’s] still mandatory. The Ministry expects every Grade 4 and 7 student to write the Foundation Skills Assessment.”
He said students can be excused from writing the test only if there is a family emergency, lengthy illness or other extenuating circumstance.
Sutherland said an extenuating circumstance might be a situation in which a student with special needs is unable to write the test. A philosophical difference over the value of the test does not qualify, he said.
The ministry maintains that the tests give parents, teachers and schools a useful snapshot of how students are doing in reading, writing and math, and lead to improvements in student achievement.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation, however, opposes the tests, in part because it says the results are used to rank schools and promote privatization. The union also says they take time and resources away from classroom learning.
As in previous years, the teachers group is encouraging parents to withdraw their children from the tests, which begin Jan. 14 and run to Feb. 22. The union even circulates a form — much like the one referred to in the government’s errant statement — that parents can use to get their child excused.
Federation president Susan Lambert said the government’s flip-flop highlights its confusion.
“I know that there is a lot of contention in this government about the FSAs,” she said. “There is a political directive that is trumping the educational concerns and making for very incoherent education policy.”
Lambert said the tests promote standardization and conformity, while B.C.’s education plan calls for creativity, innovation and personalized learning.
NDP education critic Robin Austin said the Liberals got caught Tuesday “playing politics” with a complex issue.
“At the end of the day, parents want to know how their kids are doing and how their schools are doing,” he said.
If elected in May, the NDP would move to randomized FSA testing, which would eliminate school rankings, Austin said.
The government would then look to improve the assessments by finding ways to measure other key elements, such as whether a student can think critically or enjoys access to music and drama programs.
“If we can find a form of assessment that tells us what the overall, true value of a school is to their community, it’ll be an improvement on simply the snapshot of the FSAs,” he said.
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