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

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