Foundation Skills Assessment: what do they really assess?

The FSAs tell us far more about the demographics of a school community than they do about teaching effectiveness or school quality, which is why FSA results almost perfectly correlate to property values, income levels, educational attainment of the parents.

When our oldest child attended a school that served a very diverse and often disadvantaged population, teachers responded to kids who were failing/struggling by adding before and after school tutorials and many other forms of support. Many children came to that school with little knowledge of English, and for many their parents were not literate in any language. Few attended preschool. Some kids had never held a book before they started kindergarten. For our eldest, it was an amazing school filled with incredibly enthusiastic and motivating teachers. With that education, our child was able to go on as a successful honour student and get full scholarships and early admission to university. Sadly for many of our child’s classmates, parental drug problems, poverty, domestic violence and other issues overwhelmed the at-times Herculian efforts of staff to educate them. That school s/he went ranked near the bottom of Vancouver schools in Fraser Institute rankings, which to this day causes our child a lot of grief and resentment after experiencing first hand what an excellent school it was.

Our next two kids attend a different elementary school in a far more affluent community. When students at their school struggle, it is very common to have staff suggest tutoring, Kumon, Reading Foundation etc. Most kids there attended preschool and come from families where university graduation is the norm. This school ranks very high in FSA rankings.

I’ve believed for years that kids at our present school could play ball all day and still score high on FSAs as they are so well prepared for school, supported at home and have a rich range of extracurricular activities. When they struggle, parents have the means to obtain outside support.

So when these two different groups sit down and write FSAs, what are we really testing? It’s an apples and oranges situation and it’s getting worse as supports for students with special learning challenges (learning disabilities, autism, ESL) are steadily declining — at least in our district — year by year. A top-notch teacher with a few unsupported kids in his/her class can see the whole program derailed. We are holding teachers “accountable” for many factors that are simply beyond their control by administering a standardized test to groups that are not “standard” at all.

I sincerely believe these tests are misleading and damaging and provide no valuable information. As for what to replace them with -I’m not sure we need to replace them.

Guest Posting from a Concerned Parent

Culture in the Classroom Conference, Prince Rupert

Returning Home: Anthropological Research & Curriculum Development with Gitxaala Nation

Workshop part of the Culture in the Classroom Conference
Prince Rupert, April 27, 2007

This session documented and critiqued the ongoing research relations between UBC and Gitxaala Nation with an emphasis on our research and curriculum development within the context of the Forests and Oceans for the Future project. Drawing upon the project team’s research and curriculum development for Gitxaała we presented a perspective that places primacy upon First Nations epistemology and pedagogy in the development of an inclusive curricula. Forests and Oceans for the Future is an ecological knowledge research project based at UBC and conducted in collaboration with Gitxaała Nation. A key objective of the project has been to develop useful curriculum materials that maintain Gitxaała knowledge within the community. The underlying approach that has emerged is one that places an indigenous perspective at the heart of our work. This workshop was designed to share our experiences and to engage other educators in the process.

Here are some of the web link that will bring you to the specific resources mentioned during the workshops.

URGENT: UPDATE ON VSB Budget cuts for September 2007

Rally at the VSB Main Office starting this Thursday, April 26th at 6:30 pm.

The VSB has presented a revised budget that includes no reductions of the deep staffing cuts outlined previously, in particular, cuts that will seriously impact schools’ ability to support students with special needs, ESL and other vulnerable students.

The VSB was able to find almost $1 million in additional funding for the coming year since last week, but the Board is recommending putting all these savings towards a rainy day fund — a stunning proposal in light of the potential to alleviate the worst of the destructive staffing cuts proposed for 2007/08. Those cuts include:

  • 3 vice principals
  • 7 supervision aides
  • one systems analyst
  • 34 Special Ed Assistants (SSWs)
  • 133 teachers (mostly non-enrolling teaches who support Libraries, ESL and Special Ed)

Please make an effort to come out to the Rally. Bring your umbrella to send a message to the VSB that it’s not just a rainy day — it’s pouring! — and that they need to stand up to support our students!

The VSB budget meeting starts inside at 7 pm so join us inside to support those who have registered to speak in an effort to convince the Board to take all possible steps to mitigate these cuts and to stand up and advocate strongly for adequate Provincial funding to stop this constant and destructive cycle of cuts!

Please pass this message on to at least one other VSB parent and encourage them to join us!

[From the SOS List]

“Room 101” podcasts

“Room 101” is hosted by Michael Baker on KZUM 89.3FM in Lincoln, Nebraska and features interviews and talk about issues of education and schooling.

Wayne Ross is now podcasting “Room 101” from his web site. Check it out! You can listen to the shows (and subscribe to the podcasts) at my site. The podcasts are also available for free from the iTunes store.

Two podcasts are now available and more will be added in the days and weeks to come.

Rich Gibson, San Diego State University professor and co-founder of the Rouge Forum, talks with Michael about the schools-to-war pipeline and how the US imperialist project is reflected in the No Child Left Behind Act.

Peter McLaren, UCLA’s “most dangerous professor”, discusses the right-wing agenda for schools; his recent exchanges with Bill Ayers; and the growing efforts to dismantle the No Child Left Behind Act.

Upcoming podcasts will have interviews with Noam Chomsky, Nancy Patterson, Prentice Chandler, activist students from Lincoln, Nebraska and more…

Clipped from Where the Blog has No Name. Originally posted by wross at April 25, 2007 12:18 PM

Vancouver School Board Budget Process

Vancouver Trustees quietly sat through eleven presentations by concerned members of the community. Aside from an occasional question of clarification the Trustees had nothing to say. Perhaps it is hard to say anything in the face of a prolonged and sustained attack against public education. This year’s cuts will be almost 10 straight years of budget deficits for Vancouver. The cuts being made now may seem to some as minor and insignificant. Please don’t be fooled. Even the school board’s own budget materials make it clear that, from an educational point of view, what is being done is not in the best interests of maintaining a quality public education.

Delegations at last nights meeting were: Friends of the School Library; Race Relations Advisory Committee; Vancouver Inner City Education Society; Britannia PAC; Special Education Advisory Committee; CUPE 15; Queen Mary School PAC; Nightingale School; ESL Network; Mary Salley and children; Point Grey/Sty Wet Tan Secondary School Community.

Listen to the presentations here icon_mp3.png

Special Education Advisory Committee presentation.Download file

Our kids deserve better! Rally for education.

There will be a rally outside of the Vancouver School Board Offices on April 26 at 6:30 pm (prior to the Board meeting at 7 pm) and in response to the proposed $5.83 million deficit VSB budget.

The slogan being used is “Our kids deserve better!” – bring your own placards and noise makers or show up early and make them on the spot (supplies will be available)

All parents, kids, teachers, support staff and friends are welcome.

The event is being organized by an ad hoc group “Friends of Public Education” – please spread the word and encourage families and friends to attend.

Poster for event: Download file

In Memory

black_ribbon.jpg Our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of the women and men killed Monday, April 16th. Our universities, schools, and communities must to be places free from violence of all forms.

New York Times coverage.
CBC News coverage.
CNN coverage.
CBS map of US school shootings.

The White Ribbon Campaign: men working to end men’s violence against women.
Coalition for gun control.
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Testing, Accountability, and Standards

It’s school testing season again. The Fraser Institute is issuing it’s report card. The Teacher’s Federation is advising parents to pull out of the FSA. The government is debating achievement legislation. The Vancouver Sun has even published competing commentaries on this issue: download commentaries.

What’s the deal? For politicians and pundits, parents and almost every wag on the street, there is a deep seated belief that our education is failing. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary this is a persistent belief that has been growing over the past couple of decades.
Here’s a different tack – how about parental responsibility and accountability. Why do we expect the school system to do everything for our children? Isn’t it time that we grew up and accepted the consequences of our decisions to be parents?

It is so easy to say the system has failed. That teachers have failed. That politicians have failed. But don’t we all have some small bit of responsibility in this picture? The two income professional parents who warehouse their children in daycare from 7-5 and then can’t understand why their child is a ‘problem’ at school. The parent suffering from substance abuse who can’t meet their own needs let alone their children’s. The many parents who don’t really seem to think it matters whether or not their children play computer games and MSN all night long.

If 1000s of children are just being babysat all day, as one commentator said, then why don’t those parents go into the schools and do something?

Maybe it’s just easier to complain from the sidelines. It’s tough being a parent on call 24/7. It’s hard to do all the ‘right’ things. There are few among us (unless we are somehow able to walk on water) who don’t harbour regrets that they could have done more for their children or for themselves.

I constantly wonder why we expect so much from public education but seem so unwilling to give or do more?

If testing and measuring and comparing and setting standards is really about learning and teaching than why hasn’t it led to a better society? We still have poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, wars and crime all over the place.

I guess it all comes down to the belief that somehow teachers should be doing more. It’s as though we –parents- seem to feel that if teachers don’t deal with our child according to our expectations then there must be something wrong with the teacher.

But what do we really want from teachers?

  • Do we really want them to be superhuman and more accomplished and dedicated than parents?
  • Do we really want them to solve all of the world’s problems?
  • Are we willing to allow them time to have their own family life, their own children, their own cares, worries, and pleasures?

Apparently not because if truth be told we seem to want them to solve every single problem that we have in society.

I must confess to having grown tired of the following complaints:

  • If my child can’t read -it’s the schools fault.
  • If my child is unhappy at school -it’s the teacher’s fault (how often have parents said/heard “that teacher doesn’t like my child? be honest).
  • If my child is failing in math -the math teacher can’t teach.
  • If my child is bullied at school -the school is at fault.
    and on it goes.

I think that we need to take responsibility for our own actions. And we need to start at home. Sometimes it’s a hard to accept that our children won’t be able to fulfill all of our dreams, or that our children have different dreams than we do.

But rather than that we opt to have ‘greater’ accountability (and the emphasis is completely upon counting). The way in which the ministry operationalizes accountability in terms of IEPs is to have measurable outcomes.

For example, in terms of a child confined to a wheelchair the measurable outcome is how many times did the child attempt to wheel themselves to the washroom rather than asking to be wheeled. For a child with a learning disability we have a measurable outcome that tracks how often the child self-advocated. Etc. . . These measurable outcomes are compared to rubrics listing expected outcomes in a range of items that can now be placed on a graph and in a table. These charts and tables are passed up the system and finally we read about ‘achievement successes’ in the deputy minister’s newsletter where he artfully combines school success stories with comparative data from across the province that ‘proves’ 8 out 10 students confined to wheelchairs have met or exceed the standard set for them. W o n d e r f u l. And this can be repeated for every category.

So what are the alternatives? The testing mania seems to be so ingrained in our psyches that it is practically unimaginable for most people to see an alternative. Further more, some of those who are opposed to the testing frenzy are opposed because it is simply one more thing that they are being told they have to do in the face of many other things that are far more important.

For solutions: How about individual responsibility combined with collective concern? Rather than complaining about school failure perhaps we should take a more active role in our children’s education. I don’t mean hire more tutors or raise more money. I mean take the time to be with your children, to learn about what they are learning, to read with them, to play with them, and to participate in the life of your children’s schools. We also need to take a greater social and collective concern for our education. Rather than relegating education to the realm of consumer choice we need to reinvigorate education as a n activity of learning which prioritizes exploring the world within which we live. We have to stop seeing education as training and job placement. We have to replace trust in testing with trust in teaching. In short we need to value education in a way that doesn’t involve charts, graphs, numbers, tables, or dollars. It’s time to create the possibility for learning absent the mania of accountability.

Vancouver School Board proposes deep special ed cuts

URGENT NOTICE: Please forward to Vancouver parents of students with special needs,
including students starting kindergarten in Sept. 07

Vancouver School Board proposes deep special ed cuts for Sept. ’07 despite rising special needs enrollment.

The Vancouver School Board has just announced proposed budget cuts of almost $6 million for the 2007-08 school year, with the majority of cuts targeting frontline services for students with special needs and other vulnerable students.

The Board claims these cuts are consistent with declining enrollment in Vancouver. But when the proposed special ed cuts are compared to growing special ed enrollment figures in Vancouver, the exact opposite is true. If approved, the proposed budget would mean significant further cuts to current support levels for students with special needs, and significantly reduced service levels for new students with special needs entering Vancouver schools.
Compounding past cuts
A special ed staffing analysis, submitted to the VSB budget process by the Board’s own Special Ed Advisory Committee (SEAC) in March, showed that caseloads of special education teachers in Vancouver have already risen by over 50% since the 2000/01 school year. The special ed student/teacher ratio rose from 9:1 in 2000 to 13:1 in 2006.

A group of UBC experts in this field pointed out in a recent Vancouver Sun Op Ed that these growing caseloads mean special ed teachers can no longer provide the direct one-on-one and small group instruction that these students require to succeed. In fact, most remaining special ed teachers are now confined to supervisory and consulting positions, where they no longer have time to deliver direct special ed instruction at all. Other factors, including a lack of training and expertise and current organizational models, have been identified as further hampering these teachers’ ability to address the complex needs of at-risk students. The students suffer, and indeed all students suffer, as the burden of unsupported students then falls on regular classroom teachers who simply can’t cope.

During the same period from 2000 to 2006, the total number of SSWs (special ed teaching assistants) in Vancouver also rose significantly, but Vancouver parents and stakeholders made it very clear at a series of meetings in December that current SSW support levels are still far below what’s required to meet actual student needs.

Concurrently, deep BC Liberal budget cuts in 2002-04 to the Ministry for Children and Family Development mean that services such as speech and occupational therapy have become all but unavailable to K-12 students who require these services to help overcome learning challenges.

VSB special ed student numbers RISING, NOT falling
While overall enrollment in Vancouver has dropped since 2000, the total number of students with special needs in the district has grown by more than 17% [figures exclude the Gifted category, which is no longer provincially funded]. District projections for 2007-08 are for further special needs enrollment increases. In the Autism category alone, there will be 40 new students entering kindergarten, about three times the number of Grade 12 students exiting the system.

Special ed disproportionately targeted for cuts
As the above figures show, the VSB has disproportionately targeted its most vulnerable students, including students with special needs, for service reductions over the past six years. Indeed, the relative special ed teacher/student ratio has gotten worse over the past six years while the overall teacher/ student ratio has improved, according to the VSB’s own figures. This disproportionately is even more evident in the cuts proposed for 2007/08.

In the recent landmark legal victory in Moore vs. North Van School District, the family argued successfully that cuts to special education were disproportionate to those made to programs and services for typically developing students and therefore discriminatory.

VSB Budget process
The VSB will be holding open hearings to hear arguments for/against these budget cuts on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 17 & 18. Unfortunately, the deadline to register to speak was April 12, a day after the proposed cuts were announced, making it all but impossible to get the word out in time for concerned parents to register. The Board will present a revised budget for final comments on Thursday, April 26. Anyone wishing to register to comment at the April 26 meeting must do so by April 24.

What can families do:
A group of concerned Vancouver parents, teachers and other partners are organizing a rally outside the VSB offices at Broadway & Fir on Thursday April 26 at 6:30 pm (prior to the Board meeting which starts at 7 pm). The theme is “Our Kids Deserve Better!” Bring your own placards or show up and make them on the spot (supplies provided). All parents, students, teachers, support staff and other “friends of public education” are welcome.

E-mail Vancouver trustees, Education Minister Shirley Bond, Opposition Critic David Cubberly, your MLA and local media to express your thoughts on the the proposed cuts. Consider what it says about the management competence and political will of our elected officials at both the provincial and district levels, who are responsible for this deepening decade-old crisis in special education in a Province currently sitting on a fiscal surplus worth billions. The long-run costs to taxpayers and society of failing to invest in supporting vulnerable students today will be far greater than what is being saved

Copy and paste the contacts below into the TO line of an e-mail message:,,,,,,,,,,

Document your child’s current support levels: Act now to confirm your child’s current support levels so that you will be armed to challenge individual cuts to your child’s supports in September, if the proposed VSB budget is approved. Ask your school to document current support levels in writing: [e.g. a full-time aide would be a 1.0 FTE (Full time equivalent); a half-time aide would be 0.5 FTE, etc.] Keep this on file so that you can compare it to SSW time and other supports allocated for 2007/08.

Ministry of Education policy requires the District to provide adequate support levels based on your child’s individual needs, as determined by a qualified professional, and as specified in the Individual Educational Plan (IEP). The school must prepare an IEP for every student with special needs and the parent must be invited to take part in preparing the IEP. (If school or district officials claim that a cut to a student’s support level is consistent with the VSB’s internal staffing formula, remind them that this formula has no validity under existing provincial policy. If you need advocacy assistance, please contact us and we will try to connect parents who need help advocating for their children with advocacy support.

Please pass this along to other parents of students with special needs!

Dawn Steele, Vancouver parent, MOMS

VSB Proposes Job Cuts to Meet Funding Deficit

Superintendent, Chris Kelly, led Trustees and stakeholder representatives through the preliminary budget proposals. (Download overview).

The proposal forecasts a $5.83 million shortfall (based on an expected enrollment decline of 990 students) with the following reductions (with thanks to Patti for the summary and revisions April 12):

  • 3 Vice principals-
  • 1 systems analyst
  • 29 Special ed support workers (the ones saved after parent outcry in December)
  • 7 supervision aides
  • 132.6 teachers. 40 due to budget cutbacks; 55 due to enrollment declines, and; 37.6 due to “one-time funding” for 06/07
  • $200,000 cut from Learning & Development initiative-
  • closure of 20 portables

Teacher and parent reps asked a series of questions to which the majority Trustees deferred answers to senior management staff to answer. As an observer and as a participant as the DPAC rep to standing committee III I was personally frustrated that the majority trustees simply sat there and had nothing to say. When they were asked to respond the chair, Clarance Hansen, said that it was inappropriate to be asked to respond; Trustee Lee exclaimed upon the devastation caused the NDP in the 1990s, and Trustee Gibson said that she was there to listen and that even though she had questions there was a framework and she would listen. One silent NPA trustee spoke with me afterwards expressing their disappointment with the way education is being funded.

As a parent representative and as a voting member of society I expect more from my trustees. Even if all they had to say was ‘this is a tough decision and we have little if any room to maneuver’ I would have felt that they demonstrated more respect for those of us who volunteer our time to participate in this process.

As to what they could do -how about a real cost budget? What level of resources are needed to fund the type of education system that everyone claims we have? During the meeting staffing cuts were justified in terms of ‘formulas’ three and ten years old. A graph was produced to ‘demonstrate’ that Vancouver’s staffing level relative to enrollment has climbed significantly during the last five years (see post: math lesson) and therefore reductions in staffing levels are not a problem. I would take issue with that claim. Perhaps the original formulas were inadequate best fits to a poor condition? Perhaps higher staffing is the result of a policy designed to support and improve appropriate learning? Perhaps the demographics of our student population requires additional staffing? But, more importantly, shouldn’t elected officials and educational administrators be making decisions based upon educational principles that they support and agree with and, shouldn’t we be able to hear them talk about why they are proposing this approach?