UPDATE: B.C. school trustees ask province not to release FSA results

President Gordon Swan says results can be unfair when outside groups use them to rank schools

School trustees are asking the provincial government to not release Foundation Skills Assessment results this year.

BC School Trustees Association president Gordon Swan sent an open letter to Education Minister Rob Fleming earlier this month, saying school boards have been buoyed by the minister’s comments about the “unfairness” of ranking schools and how they “misrepresent” the quality of teaching at a particular school.

“Any public circulation of school results inevitably leads to the public ranking of schools by outside groups,” Swan wrote.

He singled out the Fraser Institute’s annual school report card, which has gathered opposition from trustees and the B.C. Teacher’s Federation in the past.

Speaking by phone on Tuesday morning, Swan said the FSA results were never meant to be released publicly.

“It’s good to give us a picture of how we’re doing as a sector,” he said. “I believe in assessment, but it has to be done appropriately. I know teachers in my own district do assessment on a daily basis.”

The Fraser Institute defended its usage of the test results, noting that hundreds of thousands of parents look at the report card each year.

“If you don’t want to do something harmful to children, kill the data,” said Peter Cowley, director of School Performance Studies at the Fraser Institute.

He challenged the province and the B.C. Teachers Federation to come up with a different set of metrics, if they consider the current metrics to be incomplete.

Glen Hansman, BCTF president, said that attempts had been made by both the union, and the previous B.C. government, but noted that the politicization of the issue made it difficult.

The education ministry noted that it did not endorse the tests’ usage in the Fraser Institute’s rankings, saying that it did not accurately reflect students’ performance.

Swan claims the tests discriminate against lower-income students, whose parents often have no choice as to where they send their kids.

“They may be significantly represented in poorer neighbourhoods and communities and significantly under-represented in independent schools and the higher-price preparatory schools.

“If I was to look at recent Syrian refugees coming in and not knowing English, I wouldn’t expect them to perform well on our FSA tests,” he added. “That doesn’t reflect the quality of the instruction they’re getting.”

Parents who are worried about how their kids are doing in school, or who are moving to a new school, should talk to their child’s teacher rather than relying on the Fraser Institute’s rankings, where private schools often rank the highest year after year.

The education ministry said it is reviewing the trustee association’s concerns.

In a statement, it defended the FSAs, saying that the date of the tests has been moved into the fall to allow teachers and parents a glimpse into students’ performance earlier in the year.

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