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As the 2011 Foundation Skills Assessment period begins, BC teachers are continuing to speak out about their many reasons for opposing the standardized tests given to 9- and 12-year-olds across BC.

On Sunday, in a last-ditch effort to shore up support for the controversial testing regime, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid issued an open letter to parents of Grades 4 and 7 students. In it, she made numerous points with which teachers strongly disagree, said Susan Lambert, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation.

Contrary to the minister’s statement, the FSA tests do not help students learn or teachers teach, nor do they give parents any valuable information about their children’s progress. Instead, they take valuable time and much-needed resources away from the classroom  and undermine teachers’ ability to provide meaningful learning experiences for all students.

“The minister is encouraging teaching to the tests, a practice that undermines the academic rigour of the curriculum. These tests were never designed to measure individual student progress, and using them as such is a gross over-simplification,” Lambert said.

“These tests assess only a very narrow and superficial slice of the curriculum, but they take on exaggerated importance when the minister inflates their value with her open letter, when accountability contracts use them as indicators, and when the Fraser Institute misuses the results to rank schools,” she continued.

Education experts across Canada have decried the rankings, along with all education partners in BC —not just the Teachers’ Federation. Even Christy Clark, as education minister, was in opposition to the rankings.

MacDiarmid’s letter also claims that “contrary to misinformation, the test is not optional.” Over recent years the BCTF has been informing parents of teachers’ concerns about the testing and of their right to opt their children out of assessments with which they disagree.

It appears that the BCTF’s message is resonating. Declining participation in the Foundation Skills Assessment shows that more and more parents are deciding it’s best for their children not to take the tests. According to Ministry of Education figures, between 9% and 11% of Grades 4 and 7 students did not take the 2008 FSA tests. In 2010, the percentage of students not taking the tests rose to between 16% and 19%.

“That this open letter would be issued the day before this year’s testing period begins indicates that the ministry is fearful that the decreased participation rates will render once again the test results statistically meaningless,” Lambert said.

She noted that there is one important point in the minister’s letter everyone can agree upon: “We want every student to be able to fully pursue their passion in education and become lifelong learners.” However, teachers know that pursuing a rigid and narrow testing agenda is not the way to reach that laudable goal.

“On one hand the ministry is promoting 21st century personalized learning while on the other hand pushing a kind of 19th century standardized testing,” Lambert said. “It’s completely contradictory.”

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For more information, contact Nancy Knickerbocker, BCTF media relations officer, at 604-871-1881 (office) or 604-340-1959 (cell).