Students in Grades four and seven in the Sea to Sky corridor are currently taking the government’s Foundations Skills Assessment tests.
The Ministry of Education moved the time of the tests to February from May with a view to making the results available to schools, students, teachers and parents in the same school year as the test is taken in.
It also decided to introduce an electronic component with all multiple-choice questions now being done online.
The changes have raised new concerns above and beyond the ongoing debate about how the test results are used to rank schools in the province.
“We don’t know what these results will mean at the end of the day because there is nothing to compare them against,” said John Hall president of the Howe Sound Teachers Association.
Hall would have preferred to see only a section of the schools in the province move to the new formats so that it could be determined how the changes affected the results.
The BC Teachers Federation does not support the use of the standardized tests in their current form.
“What we would like is elimination of the FSA and re-visiting of assessment,” said Hall.
“Teachers assess many different ways all the time. We don’t have anything against testing. We are uncomfortable with forms of standardized testing that don’t appreciate very well where kids and classrooms are at and where very different school populations are at.”
The $1.4 million FSA measures skills students have gained in several school years. The reading and numeracy tests consist of multiple-choice questions and written answers. The writing section has two writing tasks, one shorter and one longer. The tests take about four-and-a-half hours to complete and are usually done over two weeks. The students do practice during class time for the tests.
Howe Sound Superintendent Dr. Rick Erickson said there have been glitches with the electronic portion.
“When we move away from pencil and paper and rely on technology there are the challenges,” he said.
“There were some glitches.”
But, said Erickson, most were worked out as classes and teachers continued to work with the process.
Thanks to significant grants from the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation most schools in the Howe Sound District have up-to-date computer technology. There are some schools in BC that are struggling to come up with enough computers for their students to do the tests.
Despite these challenges Education Minister Shirley Bond believes the tests are a valuable tool in education.
“We do think it is important,” she said.
“This is two provincial assessments in a ten year period. We don’t think that is onerous.”
Asked if she was concerned that changing the testing time and adding in an electronic component would affect the results Bond said: “We are confident the results will be accurate.”
Considerable thought was put into the decision to move the tests to February, she said.
It was driven by the desire to see the results in the hands of the schools and families in a timely manner.
“If there is a gap let’s catch it as early as we can,” said Bond.
She also felt that adding in an electronic component fit well with today’s students most of whom are computer savvy and feel comfortable in front of a terminal.
“So that maybe less stressful for a student,” said Bond.
But she acknowledged, “I am not suggesting that we haven’t had challenges.”
Bond also pointed to the fact that moving to electronic format was more sustainable.