AS I SEE IT – Jim Nelson
So the annual hand wringing over the Foundation Skills Assessments tests begins again: Why are teachers so dead against them? Is it just that awful B.C.T.F. being radical again?
Should we keep our children from writing the tests?
The trouble with the FSA is not the tests but how they are used. F.S.A. exams are the B.C. banner of the accountability movement in education, a movement that has ruined American public schools over the last 20 years and yet is catching on in B.C. despite its disastrous effect on U.S. schools.
The accountability movement started in the U.S. and was borne of the American tendency to analyze, regulate and measure things. A good example of this is the development of American football.
Now, I enjoy an NFL game as much as much as the next person but a look at American football’s metamorphosis from rugby is instructive in understanding the development of the accountability movement in education.
Americans didn’t play rugby for long; rather, they quickly felt the compulsion to regulate and delineate the heck out of it. They divided the field into one-yard segments with 200 hash marks, added five officials, helmets and padding, statistics, instant replay, score clocks and down chains. They broke the game into quarters. Time-outs, huddles, motion rules, penalties — with designated yards for designated offences — all marched off precisely. There are signals for everything, a ritualized kicking game and 300-page playbooks with X’s and O’s and arrows.
Instead of rugby, with one ball, one referee, an emphasis on spontaneity and creativity, and an almost chivalrous adherence to fair play, our southern cousins ended up with football, a testament to rules, measures, specialization and intervention.
Unfortunately, the same cultural compulsion that spawned American football proved unhelpful when applied to education because education is like rugby. It is interactive, free-flowing, spontaneous and creative, rather than easily quantifiable, pre-packaged and measured. It is too complex to be judged by a standardized measure, no matter how strong the cultural imperative may be to do so.
How can a standardized test measure the “A-ha!” moment when a student suddenly appreciates the brilliance of Shakespeare? How can it measure the ability to co-operate or persevere or to help another student?
Learning takes place through relationships with peers and teachers. It can only be measured somewhat accurately using an aggregation of many and varied assessments, both objective and anecdotal.
We all wish it was simpler, that we could judge how students are doing with a simple urine sample or a multiple-guess test.
My opinion, although I’m a bit radical, is that an even more accurate indication of how well your child is learning is whether they are happy at school, whether they feel safe, are confident and engaged at school. If they “like” the teacher, have friends, feel good about their studies and enjoy school, they are learning just fine.
The B.C.T.F. is dead right on this issue. Although the union brings up red herrings such as how the poor children suffer undue stress when asked to write tests or how the poor teachers have to mark them, or the time it takes out of the curriculum or that the reason they are no good is because of demographic differences, yada yada yada, these are peripheral reasons for objecting to the FSA.
Teachers and the B.C.T.F. know viscerally that trying to legitimize standardized measures is harmful to our schools and, thus, our children’s learning. They are the only ones standing against the accountability movement.
As a former school principal in the Tri-Cities, I applaud this stance. Were my children in Grade 7, I would encourage them to not write the F.S.A. exams. Had I a child in Grade 4, I would send him to school and quietly but firmly instruct the school that he is not to write the F.S.A. exams and that perhaps half an hour in the gymnasium or on the playing field might be a good alternative.
Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal.
SO SING ALONG…
Following is “Turfin’ FSA,” sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.-by Jim Nelson and Dennis Secret:
If everybody had a notion, ’round District 43,
We’d call BS on the testing and we’d go on a spree,
We’ll throw ‘em all in the dumpster, autonomy has its day,
Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA
We’re giving testing the boot,
’Cause it just don’t compute.
And then we’ll set our sights on, the Fraser Institute.
Every district in B.C. will see us leadin’ the way,
Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA