Randomized FSA tests: BCSTA AGM Vote

The post below is in reply to the times Colonist editorial in which British Columbia School Trustees were rebuked for the BCSTA AGM’s vote on the FSA tests.Some startling and unsupportable (from my view)  assertions were  made about these “snapshot” tests in the editorial. The Times Colonist printed my opposing argument  Sunday May 6.

As a school trustee for School District 61, Greater Victoria, I was present at the recent BCSTA AGM, and voted with the majority of trustees to recommend administration of the FSA tests on a randomized basis (Times Colonist, May 2: “Student testing a useful measure”).

This test is described  as a “snapshot” of student achievement at a point in time in the school year. For this snapshot,students may be tested  on curriculum content they have not yet studied.This could  remedied by teachers “teaching to the test” as a friend related to me is the case in the classrooms of her niece  and nephew in New Jersey, but we have not got there in BC. Yet.Testing students on material they have not studied yet seems questionable practice.

Making inferences about a school’s “performance” on the basis of a statistically invalid sample size,for example a class of 34 in Grade 4, which can be heavily skewed
by the very high or very low scores of one or two  students each year, is also a  a questionable practice.Each year’s cohort of grade fours or sevens will be very different.
Ask any classroom teacher.

As for randomization doing away with access to the  the Fraser Institute’s school rankings, all one has to do to make a very good assessment of how a school is “doing” is to check the socioeconomic status of the families whose children  make up the majority of the students.Point variations from one year to the next in the Fraser Institute rankings are due to statistical variations that are invalid given the very small sample sizes in any one school. It is impossible to do a credible trend analysis with tiny sample sizes and with the samples uncontrollable for attributes.

Randomization of the FSA will not prevent parents from knowing about their child’s progressin a timely way. The yearly fall report card showing a “not meeting expectations” grade ora low letter grade is a clue. It’s also a call to parents to follow up with the teacher.  Teachers assess continually.

It’s hard to know what to make of the assertion that “It will also be impossible to follow individual pupils as they move through the early grades”. Parents will follow their child’s progress; teachers in the school will follow; principals will follow; student records will be sent to the new school if the child moves. It’s unclear how a one-time snapshot would make it possible to “follow individual pupils as they move though the early grades”.

Troubled and struggling children are followed by counsellors and school based teams that
often have regular liaison with outside agencies.the FSA test results mean about 1% in the big picture of a child’s life.

The FSA tests were never intended to identify “struggling teachers”. Principals in any
school know which teachers could benefit from  expert peer support available
through the BCTF, or other peer support resources.

Public school districts  have seen budgets cut by  millions of dollars over the last twelve years, while public tax dollars areincreasingly used to subsidize private schools’ small classes and exclusionary student selection practices.

Labelling any public school as “underperforming” is the result of a simplistic view  of the variables that create difficulty for the students in terms of academic achievement in that school. A more accurate term for such such a school would likely be “under-resourced”, since smaller classes and more learning support, with targeted intervention programs for struggling students especially in early years  could well turn things around.

But it’s easier to blame than to help, I suppose. Certainly it’s cheaper.