(this essay originally published on www.selfdesign.org in May 2007)
Well, it’s day one of the 2007 FSA testing period. I happen to be administering these tests on behalf of grade 4 and grade 7-level learners in SelfDesign (an un-graded program), for the second year in a row.
For the second consecutive year I’m also following the dust-up between the BCTF and the Ministry of Education about these tests, being played out district by district, largely through the media and a campaign by the BCTF urging parents to boycott the tests.
For its part the BCTF raises some valid points about these tests, pointing out the very limited value of them for the effort expended to administer them.
For its part the MinEd feels the tests provide a snapshot of student literacy levels and that they hold schools to some measure of accountability for all that money schools and districts receive.
If it were only that simple, I would describe myself as holding an opinion somewhere in the middle of these two positions.
Alas, I’m not that naive. There is so much acrimony and distrust between these two groups that I’m not certain that either position doesn’t truly reflect a long-held grudge against the other. In other words, I don’t trust either of the official opinions being trumpeted here.
What I am much more certain of, however, is that there is an opportunity here to make this kind of test-taking much more meaningful than it is now configured. Presently, the Ministry has decreed that the testing is mandatory and that the results are to reflect back on schools and school districts themselves. Further, the test results are to be scrutinized and evaluated in some measure by the Fraser Institute.
These are all loss-leading positions. Number one, making this testing mandatory provokes reaction, alienation and monkey-wrenching at many, many levels. As pointed out in the March issue of ‘Educational Leadership’ (magazine), mandatory school testing through the Bush Administration’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ program has many significant problems associated with it and very few attributes.
Number two, in making the results reflect on schools and school districts, the test-taker, AKA the ‘child’, has been rendered invisible, and thereby assigned an obscure, supporting role in a bureaucratic melodrama dragged out over a week of each child’s life. Children and parents rightfully resent this. For the Ministry to go to this much trouble to evaluate test results, they should go the distance and make this a meaningful experience for all test-takers. We do this in SelfDesign by focusing on helping kids have a positive and valuable test-taking experience, leading them through a process of test-preparation, test-taking and test result analysis, so they can improve their testing results over time. Academic tests are a fact of life, so isn’t it incumbent on educators to ensure that kids have all the skills they require to do as well as they can on tests? According to the Ministry, this is not a priority, yet it should be.
And, finally, why on earth should a non-elected partisan organization like the Fraser Insititute have anything to do with evaluating FSA test results? They shouldn’t is the answer. This is undemocratic and smacks of political manipulation.
– cheers, Michael Maser