Wednesday, December 17, 2008

B is for boycott, one's needed they say; T is for Prince Rupert Teachers leading that way

The groundswell in the BCTF is growing to take a stand on the controversial Standardized testing across the province, better known as the FSA's.

At last spring's BCTF general meeting, a motion put forward by the Prince Rupert District Teachers Union outlined the concern of teachers over the use of the standardized tests by such organizations as the Fraser Institute to rank the schools across the province.
The Rupert recommendation proved to be the starting point for the line to be drawn by the provinces teachers when it comes to the controversial tests.

Last week by a margin of 85 per cent, the BCTF announced that the provinces teachers have voted to boycott the testing process, the BCTF stating that their teachers will not prep their students, give the test, or grade the results of the finished product.

It's a move that will surely turn up the heat between the BCTF and the Ministry of Education, making for a rather strident debate this winter and spring leading up to the testing dates and of course the upcoming provincial election of May.

The Daily news featured the BCTF decision as their front page story in Tuesday's paper.

Teacher's federation gets behind idea of boycotting provincial standardized testing
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Pages one and two

What began as a motion brought forward by the Prince Rupert District Teachers' Union has turned into a province-wide teacher boycott of provincial standarized testing.

After hinting during the 2007-08 school year that teachers across the province would be taking some form of action against the provincially-legislated Foundation Skills Assessment, the British Columbia Teachers' Federation has announced that they will formally boycott the standardized testing this year. In a news release, the BCTF announced that 85 per cent of its members across the province had voted in favour of completely refusing to participate in the FSA. Teachers will not prep their students, give the test, or grade the results.

"With this vote, teachers across the province spoke very clearly," said BCTF President Irene Lanzinger. "The FSAs drain much-needed time and resources away from teaching and learning. This particular standardized test is unfair, does not help students learn, and is not an accurate measure of student progress. If B.C. government really wants to improve student achievement, the first thing they should do is keep their promise to reduce class sizes and improve support for children with special needs."

PRDTU President Gabriel Bureau said teachers are not against the idea of standardized testing, but without random sampling and with the Fraser Institute using the results to rank schools, the tests are more harmful than helpful.

"We do believe standardized testing is important to get a snapshot of how things are in the province, and that's what the tests were designed for," said Bureau. "With random sampling, they can choose maybe 20 per cent of Grade 4 and 7 classrooms across B.C., with a balance of urban and rural, big and small schools, so that each school gets tested every five years or so, giving a snapshot of how students across the province are performing. But having every student write the test, and then using that information to measure individual students or schools, is ridiculous."

As the standardized testing is provincially legislated and is a mandatory component for Grade 4 and 7 students in all school districts, it remains to be seen just how the Ministry of Education will respond to the boycott because the action may prove to be illegal.

"School districts are mandated by the ministry to administer these tests. It's not optional," said Superintendent Eric Mercer.

"So we have to find a way to administer this. If we don't have the teachers, then the administrators might do it or just the office staff. But however it works, we have to abide by the minister's directives. It becomes quite awkward when the BCTF says they won't participate."
Education Minister Shirley Bond called the decision "irresponsible," and said it was unbelievable that ultimatums were being made instead of concentrating on the achievement of students.

However, she would not comment on what action the ministry might take if teachers across the province all refused to participate in the February 2009 testing.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons, a former Prince Rupert teacher, said that the government should be working with teachers, parents and trustees, instead of "picking fights and playing politics."
He agreed that assessing and testing students is absolutely necessary and is something that all sides agree on, but that creating the dangerous scenario of ranking schools unfairly is not helpful.
"Our first concern must be to foster a positive learning environment for our students," said Coons.

"That means the government must listen to legitimate concerns raised by parents, teachers and trustees about the way these tests are being applied. I believe that the BC Liberals need to sit down with teachers and parents to review the standardized testing model, perhaps revamp it, to ensure it works for students."

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