||Volume 19, Number 6, April 2007 |
BCTF focus-group testing
Six focus groups were conducted in Prince George, Vancouver, and Victoria on behalf of the BCTF at the end of January 2007. Groups were made up of approximately 10 randomly chosen individuals. In each centre, one group was conducted with the public and another with BCTF members.
The groups with teachers focussed on their experiences with Bill 33, provincial funding for education, and the impact of the government’s accountability schemes. The public groups looked at perceptions of education overall, education funding, class size and composition, as well as the government’s accountability schemes.
The following report is from Viewpoints Research Ltd. who conducted the research groups.
The first task in each group was to draw a picture reflecting the participants’ view of public education.
Perceptions of public education
Most teachers drew pictures reflecting their own experience in the classroom where they are overwhelmed by large classes, too many unsupported students with special needs, insufficient resources, time consuming reporting requirements that keep them from interacting with students, and frequent changes to the curriculum. Teachers also saw themselves as being under close critical scrutiny by government, parents, and the media who don’t trust teachers or value their professional experience and expertise.
Participants in the public groups had a generally positive view of teachers. They expressed concern that too many young people are poorly behaved, sympathizing with teachers and blaming parents for this situation. Many participants said that student/teacher ratios in many classrooms are too high. Several parents reported that courses like music, art, and physical education have been virtually eliminated from their children’s schools and that school libraries have been closed.
The job the government is doing
No teacher felt that the government is doing a good or a better job in education. Many expressed frustration at the media and the public for accepting the government’s rhetoric and public announcements that education is going well or improving in the province.
Most in the public groups thought the government is doing a poor job when it comes to education. The fact that teachers went on strike was an indicator to some that the government is doing a poor job. Several participants said that the government doesn’t want to take responsibility for education. No one believed the assertion that education funding is at an all time high. When participants learned the provincial government is now investing about $200 less per student in BC schools than it did in 1990, the public was concerned but not surprised. School closures seemed to be the most compelling evidence of inadequate education funding. There was widespread concern when participants were told that the decline in the number of teachers is more than twice the decline in student enrollment. Everyone concluded that the government’s first responsibility in education is to properly fund schools.
Fundraising and school fees
Participants agreed that fundraising has increased, and parents and students are expected to raise money for basic school supplies.
Parents were concerned about the high cost of school supplies and worried that the increasing reliance on school fees is increasing the disparity between schools in lower income and higher income areas, thereby reducing equality of opportunity in the public school system.
Teachers were aware of Bill 33. Many hoped the legislation would improve class size and composition and have been disappointed. Secondary teachers were frustrated that the law does not allow them to refuse larger classes. Teachers reported that many of the students with special needs in their classrooms do not have the additional support they need. To meet Bill 33 commitments, school districts have cut specialist teachers, reduced janitorial services, cut administrators and given those that remain tasks previously done by teachers, taken more international students, cut back on courses, and increased wait times for assessment.
In the review of Bill 33 teachers want the BCTF to ensure class size and class composition limits are properly funded.
Class size and composition
Parents and the public favoured lower class sizes. They also opposed the government canceling the teachers’ contract. No one had heard about Bill 33, although many were aware that teachers went on strike on issues related to class size and composition. No one denied the importance of specialist teachers. Librarians were singled out as being essential to schools and students; high school counselors and reading specialists were also specifically named. Most participants were aware of the prevalence of students with special needs and ESL students in classrooms.
There was no support among teachers for the government’s accountability schemes, including standardized testing. Teachers concluded that standardized testing means teachers increasingly teach to the test and that these tests take teachers’ time away from students. Teachers concluded that while some districts, schools, and administrators take the tests very seriously, many others do not. Some teachers reported that standardized tests create significant stress and self-esteem problems for many students.
Teachers concluded that most principals have a plan for their school and administrators use mechanisms like school planning councils and school growth plans to advance their own goals for their schools.
Everyone concluded that teachers offer a more comprehensive assessment of students than does standardized testing.
When presented with arguments against standardized testing there was only limited opposition to testing Grade 12 students. Some concern was expressed about testing discourages Grade 10 and 11 students from staying in school.
No one said it would be inappropriate for teachers to urge parents to withdraw their children from standardized tests in Grades 4 and 7. They shared teachers’ concerns that this testing might be stressful to students and hurt young children’s self esteem.
Teachers were offended by the Fraser Institute’s use of standardized tests to rank schools saying there is a direct correlation between test results and the socio-economic status of students in schools. Some teachers reported that parents take school rankings seriously, while others said that, when it came to their children’s school, parents paid little attention to rankings.
Awareness of the institute’s ranking of schools was fairly high. Some people saw the rankings as a tool which parents can decide to use to help them make decisions about their children’s education. Most participants agreed that the value of the Fraser Institute’s rankings is limited because it uses only the results of standardized tests to determine its rankings and no weight is given to arts programs, extra curricular activities, sports programs, or "school spirit."
Teachers did not like or want to use this system. They had concerns related to BCeSIS’s potential to violate the confidentiality of student records, the capacity of the system to track and monitor teachers and the major technical and programming problems they had either experienced or heard about with BCeSIS. All of the teachers’ concerns around confidentiality were increased significantly when they learned that a private organization, not government, maintains the system.
No one in the public groups had heard of BCeSIS. When the system was explained to participants they had a strong, negative, emotional reaction to it. Many participants expressed concern about the confidentiality of student information and several worried about what would happen if academic and demographic information were linked together in this data bank. Like teachers, when the public participants were told BCeSIS is being managed by a private organization, concerns about privacy and the misuse of information increased significantly. People were worried that the information might leave the province, especially if BCeSIS is managed by an American organization.