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High refusal rate skews data for some schools

Susan Notes: We need to follow the British Columbia example: shut the tests down! NCLB and high stakes tests will not be defeated in the courts or in the legislature. People must rise up and refuse to participate. This means teachers and parents.

Results useless at schools where teachers have success convincing many parents to pull their kids from provincewide assessment

Janet Steffenhagen

Teachers have been counselling parents to pull their children from provincial tests that are intended to show whether B.C. students are learning basic skills. In some cases, they have been so successful as to render the test meaningless.

In Burnaby's Maywood elementary, for example, about 16 per cent of the Grade 4 and 7 students took the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) last year. That participation rate was the lowest in the province, and principal Sue Montabello said it isn't much different this year.

Some students were excused, as permitted by the B.C. Education Ministry, because they were beginner ESL students or had severe special needs. In addition to those, 80 of the almost 140 students eligible to take the tests last year were exempted because parents -- urged on by teachers -- asked for them to be excluded, Montabello said.

In many cases, they were ESL students who had moved beyond the beginner level but were still struggling with the language. "Having them write the test . . . was setting them up not for success," Montabello said. Even though the tests do not affect student grades, the children would feel frustrated and unsuccessful, she explained.

"At the end of the day, being confident and feeling good about yourself as a learner is what keeps you learning," Montabello noted. "I think that would be at the heart of it."

The school's ESL rate is about 60 per cent.

Teachers have distributed pamphlets to parents warning against the tests. Produced in seven languages, the pamphlets say the tests are stressful for kids and force teachers to "teach to the test" while ignoring other parts of the curriculum.

B.C. Teachers' Federation president Jinny Sims said some school principals pressure their teachers to practise the tests weeks in advance, which means they aren't the "snapshot" of student learning they are intended to be.

With such low participation rates at Maywood, the FSA results are meaningless for the school, Montabello said. But she isn't worried because she said teachers are far better judges of how students are doing than standardized tests.

Ian Cameron, a university instructor and expert on student assessment, said the FSA offers a valuable, provincewide look at the state of education and allows schools to consider how their students' learning compares to others.

"Anyone who cares can look at the results on a school-by-school basis and say, 'These two schools are very much like one another and this school did better than the other one -- how come?'

"That's really what it's all about," he said.

The FSA was introduced in 2000, but provincewide tests have been around much longer, he noted. In the 1970s and earlier, they were confined to high schools, but B.C. brought in a broader assessment in 1978 known as the Provincial Learning Assessment Plan (PLAP). It was dropped in the early 1990s when testing went out of fashion.

But it returned in the latter part of the decade and was transformed into the FSA, which was initially delivered in Grades 4, 7 and 10. Grade 10 tests were dropped recently in favour of provincial exams.

The B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils supports the FSA.

"Because all Grade 4 and 7 students in the province, from Fort St. John to Sooke, participate in this assessment, we have a provincewide picture of how well our students are mastering the curriculum in these vital areas," the group, which speaks for parents provincially, says in a release. "We can use this information to make our schools better."

President Kim Howland said the union's message is misleading.


Highest Non-Participation Rates in the Province

These schools had the highest proportion of students who did not test.

Tests not written School Status City 2005 rank

83.7 Maywood Public Burnaby 20

47.4 Admiral Seymour Public Vancouver 1

41.5 Sir Alexander MacKenzie Public Vancouver 926

39.9 Sir William MacDonald Public Vancouver 838

36.8 Edmonds Public Burnaby 954

35.9 Tahayghen Public Masset 902

35.8 John Field Public Hazelton 926

34.0 Sir Charles Kingsford-S Public Vancouver 206

32.2 Lord Beaconsfield Public Vancouver 90

31.4 Nelson Waldorf Independent Nelson 298

Note: There may be schools at which the tests not written (%) equals 100%. These schools would have

no data and, therefore, would not appear in the report card.

Source: Fraser Institute Vancouver Sun

— Janet Steffenhagen
Vancouver Sun


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