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BCTF says parents can opt out of FSA test, despite school boards saying it’s mandatory

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WATCH: The BC Teachers Federation is urging some parents to excuse their elementary school students from a test designed to evaluate literacy and numeracy skills. John Hua explains what the concerns are.

B.C.’s school boards and teachers’ union are at odds over the province’s Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) — and whether students should take the standardized test at all.

School boards across the province have issued reminders to parents this week that students in grades 4 and 7 will be required to take the test, which measures reading, writing and math.

But the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has sent a letter to parents saying they can opt their children out from taking the FSA, highlighting Ministery of Education guidelines that allow exemptions “in the event of a family emergency, lengthy illness, or other extenuating circumstances.”

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The letter includes a small form parents can fill out and send to principals asking their child to be excused.

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“The FSA tests do not count toward your children’s marks and they do not help students learn or teachers teach,” the letter reads.

“Teachers do not believe the FSA is a reliable method of measuring individual progress. Research says that large-scale assessment is more useful for broadly evaluating the educational system and its programs.”

READ MORE: Hide FSA results so that outside groups don’t rank schools: B.C. school trustees

BCTF president Teri Mooring says the test does not paint an accurate picture of whether teachers, schools and the overall education system is making the grade.

“It’s a one shot test,” she said. “It’s not a complete picture of how students are doing. You have a lot of students that get test anxiety and it seems like a needless stressor.”

The BCTF and other groups have been fighting to eliminate the FSA for years, arguing the data is often misused by groups like the Fraser Institute, which ranks schools based on test scores.

“That’s very, very dejecting for not only teacher but families to see their schools ranked in such a negative way,” Mooring said.

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In 2017, the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA) asked the then-new NDP government to hide the results of the FSA so outside groups couldn’t access them.

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The BCSTA argued disadvantaged students — including those in provincial care — often don’t perform as well on tests in general, despite excelling in other areas.

The results were eventually made public, which the Fraser Institute argued was necessary for public accountability.

The Ministry of Education said in a statement Wednesday it is concerned about the use of FSA data to rank schools, echoing a similar response to the BCSTA’s concerns in 2017.

READ MORE: Elementary schools in Langley, Surrey top list of controversial school rankings

But the ministry says the assessments still provide “important early snapshots” of students’ development, and are supported by the First Nations Education Steering Committee.

“Assessments help to make better decisions for students — with daily planning, interventions, additional supports, and resource allocation,” the ministry said.

The FSA was recently updated to match B.C.’s new school curriculum, the ministry noted, and includes collaborative, online and written components.

READ MORE: Standardized tests for Ontario teachers doesn’t necessarily improve student scores: report

One point Mooring and the ministry appear to agree on is that the FSA is just one of many assessments made of student and teacher performance throughout the school year.

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But the BCTF says until the province overhauls or gets rid of the test, it will be up to parents to send the message that change is needed.

“We thought with a change of government there might be a change in approach,” Mooring said. “Teachers have much more of a rich knowledge of how students are doing in their classrooms.”

With files from John Hua, Emily Lazatin and Charmaine de Silva