"This year, let's get rid of useless government tests for good" say Vancouver teachers

    VANCOUVER, Sept. 26 /CNW/ - Earlier this school year than in the past,
Grade 4 and 7 students across BC will again be asked write the Foundation
Skills Assessments. These tests have fallen into increasing disfavour. Growing
numbers of parents are taking their dissatisfaction so far as to sign letters
withdrawing their children from these time-consuming tests.
    Supporting parents in the decision to opt their children out, Vancouver
elementary teachers are this week renewing their information campaign for
parents about the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA).
    "Teachers and parents have numerous concerns about FSA," says Glen
Hansman, President of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers'
Association(VESTA). "The FSA does not help students learn. They take valuable
time away from teaching and learning. Hours and hours of practicing for the
FSA takes time away from richer, more meaningful learning experiences."
    "The truth is that FSA results do not, and indeed cannot, provide
evidence that could possibly influence classroom instruction," says Glen
Hansman. "This is because teachers are never provided the link between a
certain question and a certain student's answer that, in a classroom's
teacher-designed assessment, would give the teacher information on what that
student needs to know. The results are very vague - unlike a student's report
card, which is based on a variety of measures and provides much specific
detail, in a timely way, so that parent and teacher can be proactive in
addressing any problems. Teachers have many ways of identifying and addressing
problems - the FSA isn't one of them."
    "These tests are expensive," he continues. "They take money away from
priorities such as textbooks, support for students with special needs, science
equipment, and library books."
    Another concern of teachers is how the tests are being misused to
unfairly compare schools. "The Fraser Institute rankings of elementary schools
are misleading and create further disadvantage in already disadvantaged
schools and communities," says Glen Hansman. "These rankings have been
condemned by many educational partner organizations, and discredited by
educational researchers. We applaud the work of Paul Shaker, the Dean of
Education at SFU, and researcher Alfie Kohn who have been speaking out so
knowledgeably and eloquently on this issue. Fortunately, parents and school
board trustees are taking notice."
    Last fall, the Vancouver School Board (VSB), its District Parent Advisory
Council, and VESTA cost-shared an evening event with Alfie Kohn to highlight
concerns about standardized testing such as the FSA.
    "Vancouver teachers were very pleased to see the VSB take a position on
standardized tests last fall by declaring in a media release that our fixation
on test scores is hurting good teaching methods." (See
    "Now is the time, though," says Glen Hansman, "for parents to make an
informed choice about their child's participation in the FSA. Too bad the
Ministry of Education doesn't see it this way, and is insisting on continuing
down the road of testing, testing, testing - more pseudo-accountability for
schools, but with less resources to address the real learning of students and
the real challenges in schools. Teachers are pleased that parents are
beginning to realize this and withdrawing their children from empty exercises
like the FSA in hopes of more authentic education and assessment."
    "We urge principals, superintendents, and the Minister to respect
parents' choices in regards to the FSA," says Glen Hansman. "We have heard
stories of some principals refusing to honour parents' requests to withdraw
their children from the FSA - which is, after all, not even part of the
curriculum. The Ministry of Education should not be showing disrespect to
parents who, until now, were invited to exercise choice after choice regarding
their children's education. How can any principal, School District or Ministry
personnel override parental discretion in regards to a non-curricular matter?"
    Lastly, it has been confirmed through the courts that teachers have the
professional obligation to speak out on professional issues related to
education. Glen Hansman states: "The BC Court of Appeal was very clear in 2005
that teachers have the right to free expression about professional concerns in
their workplace, and that they have the duty to share their concerns about
educational issues such as class size and composition. Teachers feel very
strongly about the FSA and its links to the high-stakes testing movement
coming out of the US into Canada, and all the dangers to public education that
movement brings. We need to work together to put a stop to tests like the FSA,
and its division of schools into winners and losers!"
    "This year, let's get rid of these useless government tests for good," he

For further information:

For further information: Glen Hansman, President of the Vancouver
Elementary School Teachers' Association, (604) 873-8378 (Monday-Friday, except
holidays), (604) 813-5318 (cell), or glen@vesta.ca. Glen Hansman is the
President of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association.

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