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Greater Victoria teachers lobby parents against tests

Jan 13 2012

The Greater Victoria Teachers' Association has stepped up its battle against province-wide standardized testing of all students in Grades 4 and 7.

The GVTA sent parents a letter this week advising them of their ability to withdraw children from writing the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests, which begin Tuesday and run to Feb. 24.

The tests assess students' skills and knowledge in reading, writing and math.

The GVTA included a sample withdrawal form along with the letter, which was taken home by students in a sealed envelope. A copy of the letter will be published as an advertisement in Sunday's Times Colonist, the union said.

The GVTA notes in the letter that B.C. public school teachers voted 85 per cent in favour of refusing to mark, administer or prepare students for the FSA tests as long as they are given to every student in the province.

"Teachers assess their students on a regular basis and they believe that classroom assessment should be meaningful and supportive of student learning," the letter states. "FSA tests are neither."

Education Minister George Abbott was unavailable for comment Thursday but his office issued a statement that said the ministry expects all Grade 4 and 7 students to complete the FSA tests.

"The FSA is not optional," the ministry said. "In a year when parents aren't receiving teachers' input on their children's report cards, it's more important than ever that parents do receive this very important information on how their children are doing. It's especially true of the vulnerable students in British Columbia."

The ministry maintains that FSA test results give parents, teachers and schools a useful snapshot of how students are doing and lead to improvements in student achievement.

But acting GVTA president BĂ©nula Giasson said FSA testing has gone off the rails in recent years because the results are now published and used by the conservative Fraser Institute to rank schools across the province.

"Now, because it is published, because it is in newspapers, the pressure is on," she said. "Now what happens? We start prepping our kids for the FSA, which is totally not what it was originally supposed to be."

Giasson said the school rankings pit public schools against private schools, undermine confidence in the public school system, and fail to reflect the challenges faced by public schools. "It's comparing apples with oranges," she said. The teachers favour random, anonymous testing instead.

The union wants the Greater Victoria school board to draft its own letter advising parents of their options for FSA tests.

Giasson noted that school boards in Vancouver and the Cowichan Valley have sent letters to parents in the past. The letters make clear that students are expected to participate, but that boards respect the rights of parents and students to decide whether it's in their best interests to participate.

The Greater Victoria board is expected to discuss issue at a meeting Monday night.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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