Whew! For the 4th year in a row I have administered and ‘marked’ FSA tests* for grade 4 and 7-level learners in our SelfDesign program. Given all the kerfuffle by the public and the BCTF before this year’s February testing, our experiences in SelfDesign were generally positive but this reflects our unique approach which downplays test results and concentrates on the testing process. After this year’s experience I am more convinced than ever that the opposing positions staked out by the Ministry and the BCTF wrt FSA testing amount to a shell game in which the better learning interests of the test’s main participants: i.e. 10 and 13-year old students, are regrettably overlooked and manipulated. (*FSA tests are standardized tests in the province of British Columbia, mandatory for any government-funded school).
With the continuing growth of SelfDesign – a unique, innovative program supporting kids designing and completing their own learning plans from their own homes – we have more learners eligible for FSA testing than ever, and so our administration has likewise grown. This year, more than 100 SelfDesign learners completed the testing which consisted of an online portion and a mail-in written portion. Here’s my round-up about this year’s testing:
– Our process began in early January when we first encouraged ‘test-eligible’ learners and their parents to consider the testing as an “opportunity” to learn about and experience ‘school-based testing’ (many have not done so before, and many also profess to having negative feelings about such testing). We encourage learners to try a practice test, and I also provide modules to help learners optimally prepare for, sit and analyze test results. We also begin supporting exemptions from the testing, based on the testimonies of parents, who we recognize as the most important judges of their child(ren)’s emotional ‘readiness’ to participate in such testing.
As chief bottle-washer overseeing the tests I encourage learners to recognize that the marks or evaluation of this testing is inconsequential to them, and therefore they can just concentrate on the experience itself. I urge them to relax and even devise an experiment around the testing – for example, seeing how different kinds of background music affect their concentration – and I encourage them to take the time they need to answer the questions to their satisfaction.
Overall, the feedback I received this year about the testing by our learners reflects a generally positive experience. In marking the tests I can clearly see that our learners put a lot of thought and care into answering questions that at times are painfully tedious and occasionally, as in the case of the Grade 7 Numeracy questions (paper-based), dreadfully written and confusing. On the creative writing question (included in both levels of testing) every single paper I reviewed proved up as an imaginative and sound story, and I know that in almost all cases these stories would not have been completed to this level in a conventional school class sitting for testing that is cut off at an arbitrary time limit.
And that continues to be the overall problem with this testing, especially true in conventional school settings: It is not designed with learners’ multiple intelligences and aptitudes foremost in mind; rather, it defaults to a bureaucratic and impersonal process that grinds away at the sensibilities of its participants.
Last fall, I wrote the Minister of Education, urging her to re-think this testing experience and broaden its scope of meaning and “opportunity” for the benefit of students and our society in general. I never received a response.