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PRIORITIES FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

A Brief to the Ministry of Education from the BC Teachers’ Federation, August 2017 

Curriculum Change: Assessment

The issue

It is widely recognized that teachers are the most reputable source of information on individual students’ progress. In line with the approaches guiding the revised BC K–12 curriculum, assessment practices in BC must shift from high-stakes summative assessment to a more balanced approach of classroom-based formative assessment. The highest quality and most reputable public assurances around individual student performance are, and remain, with the classroom teacher through a wide variety of methods teachers use.

However, to date, the Ministry of Education has continued to rely on high-stakes summative assessment as a measure of educational success. By contrast, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) is opposed to the use of the provincial Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), as well as other national and international assessment tools, for several reasons:

  • The use of standardized assessment tools is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of personalized learning because it measures all students in the same manner.
  • No new resources or funding flow to schools identified by these tests as needing additional support.
  • Results of standardized tests have for many years been misused by third parties in BC (e.g., the Fraser Institute) to rank schools and undermine public confidence in our public system.

It is disappointing that the provincial government has not agreed to the recommendation from the Advisory Group on Provincial Assessment that school and student data must be protected from misuse by third parties.

Background

Assessment currently occurs at the district, provincial, national, and international levels. This is the current reality as of June 2017:

District assessment

There is growing concern among BCTF members that the elimination of many provincial assessments is being used as a rationale by districts to increase the number of district-mandated assessments, adding to the over-abundance of prescribed tools.

Provincial assessment

From 2013 to 2015, the BCTF actively participated with partners on the Advisory Group on Provincial Assessment (AGPA). All parties agreed that the purpose of a provincial tool was a system-wide check, not an individual measure of achievement. However, the government did not agree to the recommendations of AGPA to protect individual and school data from misuse by third parties. 

The BCTF did participate in the development of the new FSA, but not the piloting. The FSA is scheduled to be administered to Grade 4 and 7 students in October/November 2017.

National and international assessments

BC participates in national and international assessments that proport to measure reading, math, and science skills of our students from various age ranges and then compare their results with students in other provinces or countries. This includes the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP), next scheduled for 2019; the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), next scheduled for 2018; and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), next scheduled for 2021.

The BCTF is opposed to our ongoing participation in these outside measures. Even though our jurisdiction consistently ranks highly on these assessments, research shows the tests are not an accurate measure of student achievement across national and linguistic cultures. Furthermore, the results are frequently used and misused by third parties who seek to rank national educational systems, associate the test results with economic outcomes for nations, and impose instructional techniques on vastly different cultures.

Key recommendations

Recommendation 1

Reduce the number and scope of summative assessments. There is an over abundance of testing of students at the international, national, provincial, and district levels. These measures do not provide new funding or resources to target any perceived shortcomings.

Recommendation 2

Review the current Provincial Student Assessment Program, discontinue the FSAs, and ensure responsible and appropriate use of provincial assessment data. It is critical that provincial assessments are used for the purpose they were designed for, which is as a snapshot of how the system is performing. A key issue for the BCTF is the protection of individual and school data. The future of any provincial assessment tool hinges on this very important aspect of data-sharing and protection. The province should also withdraw from participation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s PISA, review all aspects of the Provincial Student Assessment Program, and discontinue the FSA.

Recommendation 3

Support classroom-based formative assessment that aligns with the new curriculum.

Providing collaboration and in-service time for teachers to shift their classroom-based assessment practices to align with the revised curriculum is the key to moving the curriculum forward. Classroom-based assessment requires funding, not spending millions of dollars on assessment tools that are far removed from the reality of everyday classroom practice.

Recommendation 4

Provide resources. The results of any provincial standardized assessment tool must be linked to the allocation of additional resources. Ethical use of assessment tools includes attaching new resources and funding to support identified areas of need. If this does not occur, then the ongoing administration of the assessment tool is based on unethical practice.

Further reading

Reports of the Advisory Group on Provincial Assessment:
2014
2015

BCTF Education Change Bulletin (informs teachers about education change) 

International assessments

Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP)PIRLS 2011 - British Columbia's Performance 

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 

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