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Teachers not happy

Students in grades 4 and 7 in this district will be taking the annual Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) until Feb. 22, but the local teachers association isn't happy about what will be done with the results.

"We're fundamentally opposed to the FSA in terms of the way in which the results are misused and used in order to rank schools," said Mount Arrowsmith Teacher Association president Deb Morran.

Morran said the tests are simply a snapshot of where a student is in their reading, writing and math skills on any given day. But a much more complete assessment is always best provided by the classroom teachers, she said, who have a much more complex understanding of where a specific student is.

She also said she has trouble with the fact that parents aren't allowed to withdraw their students from the tests unless they present an application to the principal, who then "adjudicates" and gives a final decision. Morran said MATA stands behinds parents and their ability to know what's best for their child.

"Many students see their level of anxiety increase when they are expected to participate in an assessment such as this," she said.

The B.C. Teachers Federation Website says the four-and-a-half-hour tests are "both educationally unsound and socially damaging," and encourages parents to withdraw their students from the test.

Local school trustee Julie Austin introduced a motion to the board on Sept. 25 last year resolving that the district respect the right and responsibility of parents and guardians to determine whether or not the students participation in the FSAs is in the best interest of the student and that a letter excusing a child from FSA participation be sent home to all parents of Grade 4 and Grade 7 students in the district outlining the ministerial orders around FSAs and including three reasons for a student to be excused from the test.

Local District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC) chair Renate Child expressed concern at that meeting that such a letter coming from the school board might cause parental concern where there was none before and director of instruction Gillian Wilson stated the FSA was a useful tool in our district that is not used for ranking. Austin then postponed the motion to do further research.

Child said Austin attended and discussed her concerns at a DPAC meeting, but further discussions, as well as e-mails from parent representatives, determined there were no issues with parents not being able to remove their children from the test when requested, and other parents appreciated the feedback they got from the tests.

Dave Melsness has a son in Grade 4 in Arrowview Elementary School and said he thinks the test is an important check and balance to gage how the children are doing.

"It seems more and more that society has got this idea that we shouldn't put our kids in places where they might fail at something, and I think some of the biggest lessons you learn in life are from your failures. Testing is important," he said.

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