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Liberal leadership candidates want changes to literacy test

B.C. Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott says there is nothing
B.C. Liberal leadership candidate George Abbott says there is nothing 'magical' about the current FSA test.
— image credit: Tom Fletcher/Black Press

Two B.C. Liberal leadership candidates have called for changes to province-wide testing for elementary school children, after the head of the B.C. Principals' and Vice Principals' Association joined the B.C. Teachers' Federation in rejecting the current test program.

Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests are currently being administered across the province to grade four and seven students, to measure reading, writing and number skills. The BCTF has fought against the tests for years, with teachers refusing to mark them and lobbying parents to exclude their children.

Shuswap MLA George Abbott, who was briefly education minister before running to succeed Premier Gordon Campbell, said skills assessment tests are important. He suggested the testing regime could be modified to make it work better.

"There is not an appropriate alternative to it at this point, but I do think that there is much merit in exploring how we could either supplement or improve FSA testing, to ensure that parents get the best possible understanding of how well their children are progressing," Abbott said in interview.

He stopped short of calling for the FSA tests to be scrapped and replaced with new tests, as leadership rival and former advanced education minister Moira Stilwell suggested last week.

"It seems clear to me that FSA is no longer the appropriate test," Stilwell said.

Jameel Aziz, president of the B.C. Principals' and Vice-Principals' Association, issued a statement last week that said the FSA has too much "political baggage."

Aziz said the problem is not flaws in the tests, but the time spent by administrators responding to questions from parents who get conflicting messages from the ministry and teachers. This results in students either not taking the tests, or not trying as hard as they should.

Aziz also objected to the use of FSA test results by the Fraser Institute to rank schools, which he called a "misuse" of the data.

Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid sent a letter to parents when the test period began, advising them the tests are mandatory. MacDiarmid likened the tests to routine medical checkups for children.

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