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Students continue to skip tests in rising numbers

Dan Boudreault acknowledges that the Cowichan Board of Education’s position on FSA testing is irreconcilable with provincial policy. -
Dan Boudreault acknowledges that the Cowichan Board of Education’s position on FSA testing is irreconcilable with provincial policy.
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The number of Cowichan students skipping the controversial Foundation Skills Assessment continues to grow.

Last year the News Leader Pictorial reported a significant increase in the number of Grade 4 and 7 students not taking the Ministry of Education-mandated exam.

It appears the trend continues to catch on.

Eleven of the 14 valley schools included in this year’s Fraser Institute report — which uses FSA marks to rank schools — report an increased number of students skipping the test.

Some of the jumps are significant.

At Palsson elementary, 42.8 per cent of students skipped the FSA — up from 21.6 per cent the year before.

Other big skippers were Chemainus with 35.6 per cent; Tansor with 25.8 per cent; Khowhemun with 25.7 per cent, and Maple Bay with 17.9 per cent.

And those numbers could rise again next year, especially considering Cowichan school trustees recently passed a motion recognizing “the right and responsibility of parents and students to determine whether or not the student’s participation in the FSA testing program is in the best interest of the student.”

That’s not what the Ministry of Education says, though.

“I want to be very clear: the Foundation Skills Assessments are mandatory and continue to be administered this year,” Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said in a statement to the NLP on Tuesday.

The FSAs test students in reading, writing and math. According to the ministry, families can opt a child out of the exams in the event of a serious illness, family emergency or extenuating circumstances — with approval required from the school principal.

Calls to board of education chairwoman Candace Spilsbury were not returned by press time Tuesday, but superintendent of schools Dan Boudreault admitted the ministry and board positions on FSA are “irreconcilable.”

“The ministry wants all students to do this (exam program), and the board has basically endorsed parent choice, but at the same time the rules the ministry lays down are pretty exact,” he summed.

Boudreault didn’t know offhand what reasons most parents gave for excusing their children from the exam.

“I can’t say there was a theme that emerged last year,” he added.

It is known, however, that some parents pull their children out of the February-written exams for a variety of reasons, including support for teachers who oppose the test, and a belief the tests reinforce negative stereotypes about aboriginal students.

But MacDiarmid said the tests are used to help students achieve.

“The FSAs are important because the results let every parent know whether their child has the reading, writing and math skills needed to be successful in life, and whether their child is doing well or struggling,” she explained.

“Where FSA results show that a student is struggling, action is taken to help that child. Getting a full and accurate measure of student achievement is also important so we know how to improve our education system.”

MacDiarmid added she does not support the ranking of schools by the Fraser Institute, and is also open to discussion about the FSAs.

“Again, the administration of FSA will continue this year,” she reiterated. “However, we have said we will talk with our education partners about this important assessment tool.”

Fraser Institute rankings

School Score Ranking

Queen of Angels 7.3 184

Bench 7.3 184

Duncan Christian 7.1 213

Maple Bay 6.6 303

Duncan 6.3 352

Discovery 6.0 410

Crofton 5.4 538

Cobble Hill 5.2 576

Chemainus 4.7 667

Drinkwater 4.6 681

Alex Aitken 4.5 695

Palsson 3.4 815

Tansor 3.3 822

Khowhemun 3.2 828

Schools are scored out of a possible 10 based on 2010 Foundation Skills Assessment test results. Provincial ranking is out of 875 B.C. schools. Valley elementary schools not included in the report include Alexander, Koksilah, A.B. Greenwell (at Yount), St. Joseph’s, Ecole Mill Bay and Somenos Rural Tradition.

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