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FSAs causing more problems, say teachers

Teachers are adding to their list of complaints about the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests students began writing this week, saying some schools are having to scramble to find enough computers to administer the government-mandated exams.

The annual tests are given to Grades 4 and 7 students province-wide in an effort to gauge writing, reading comprehension and math skills. Teachers’ unions have voiced their opposition to FSAs for years, arguing they’re time consuming to administer and mark, detract from class time, cause kids undue stress, and the results are used to unfairly compare students, schools and school districts. This year, however, a multiple-choice portion of the test is being done online.

“The complaints I’ve heard from teachers is that their computer labs are being shut down for two weeks while the tests are being finished,” said Surrey Teachers’ Association (STA) president Kerry Richardson, adding that’s only if schools even have enough computers to begin with.

“I was joking that we should offer a prize for any school that’s got 40 computers up and running for Grade 7s to take the test.”

However, a spokesperson with the ministry of education said school districts were consulted earlier this week and a lack of computers was not identified as an issue.

As well, the online component was piloted in 100 randomly selected schools last October, said Lara Perzoff.

“That was to give everybody the opportunity to identify the benefits and the best methods to administer the test,” she said, countering union claims that teachers were not consulted.

“The purpose was to identify matters with the test that needed fine tuning, such as Internet connections and school-level logistics, which includes the numbers of computers and such.”

Teachers’ unions, including the STA and Delta Teachers’ Association, placed large newspaper ads recently encouraging parents to withdraw children from the testing, saying teachers already assess children on a daily basis in the classroom.

Regardless of the logistics of accessing computers, Richardson questions what the online portion of the FSAs is actually testing – reading and math, or computer literacy. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute, which uses FSA results to compile annual, province-wide school rankings, says by engaging in a campaign to eliminate the FSA, the teachers’ unions are not only trying to dodge accountability, but are trampling on parents’ right to know how their child’s school is performing.

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