Test boycott likely, says Teachers’ Union president

  • Dec. 17, 2008 8:00 p.m.

By Alex Rinfret–Teachers on the islands share the concerns of their union about standardized tests given every year to students in grades 4 and 7, and will boycott the tests in February unless the government agrees to significant changes, says the president of the local teachers’ union. Evelyn von Almassy, head of the Queen Charlotte District Teachers’ Association, said teachers would prefer random sampling tests be given, with neither the schools nor the students identified. Last week, the BC Teachers Association voted 85 percent in favour of a resolution to boycott the tests, saying they are bad for education and don’t provide useful data. Teachers have many issues with the annual standardized tests, known as the Foundation Skills Assessment, or FSA, Ms von Almassy said. Results are skewed because some teachers across the province prepare students for the tests, practising on old ones and holding regular drills, while others do not. The tests take away valuable classroom time. Some students are frustrated and refuse to do the tests completely, some guess at answers, and some become so stressed they become ill and have to go home, she said. What is particularly frustrating to teachers is that the FSA results – made public by the Ministry of Education – are then used by an organization called the Fraser Institute to “rank” schools in the province according to how well the students did on the tests. Schools on Haida Gwaii have sometimes ended up near the bottom of the rankings, although they have also sometimes done well. “The Fraser Institute and its rankings are very destructive,” Ms von Almassy said. “Imagine teachers working as hard as they can, with students who have been working as hard as they can, and we see our school at the bottom of the list. Rather depressing and the rankings do not reflect the entire reality of a school. The laughter of children in the boy of play or learning and the excitement of figuring out something for the first time is not measured.” Ms von Almassy said conducting the FSA tests is technically part of a teacher’s job, but that if all 30,000 teachers in the province refuse to do it, it would become an act of civil disobedience and very difficult for the Ministry of Education to deal with. Education Minister Shirley Bond said she was extremely disappointed in the teachers’ union resolution. She said the tests are an important tool for educators, administrators and parents to figure out how students are doing and make plans for improved achievement. “Every parent has a right to know how their child is doing in school,” Ms Bond said in a statement. “As Minister of Education, if there is one thing I have heard consistently from parents it is that they want more information about their child’s progress, not less.” Ms Bond also said that teachers are required to administer all provincial assessments, including the Foundation Skills Assessment. Meanwhile, North Coast MLA Gary Coons, a member of the NDP, said the provincial government should be working with teachers, parents and trustees, “not picking fights and playing politics.” “Our first concern must be to foster a positive learning environment for our students,” he continued. “That means that government must listen to legitimate concerns raised by parents, teachers and trustees about the way these tests are being applied… Instead of living up to their promises on things like seismic upgrading, class size, and class composition, Bond and Campbell would rather pick fights.”

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