Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Victoria schools pressure parents not to withdraw?

Last week a parent shared with me a letter she received from the Principal and Vice Principal of Arbutus Middle School. The concern was that she would not be able to withdraw her child from writing the FSAs.

The Victoria Trustees passed a motion last year that all parent requests to withdraw would be honoured. This came after a parent spoke up at a meeting about a phone call he had pressuring him not to withdraw his child. The motion read:

That the Board of Education of School District No. 61 (Greater Victoria)
continues to honour all parent requests to withdraw from the Foundation Skills
Assessment testing.

It was passed at the January 18, 2010 Board meeting.

Yet even after this motion, teachers continue to report that Principals are telephoning all parents who submit a withdrawal request. While the rationale is reportedly to ensure all requests are bone fide, the letter from Arbutus certainly has a different tone. In particular, the letter suggests that the Labour Relations Board ruled that students must participate in the FSA. The Labour Relations Board made no such ruling and would not even have jurisdiction over student participation.

Here is an excerpt from the letter sent by the Principal and Vice Principal:

January 7, 2011

Dear Grade 7 Parents/Guardians,
As a grade 7 parent you may receive a notice in a sealed envelope published by the BCTF. The following information is important to note:
·         This information is a BCTF initiative.
·         Ruling by the Labour Relations Board requires teachers to administer the FSA and students to participate; however, there may be exceptions due to designated learning, physical disabilities, or medical concerns.  We will review our students’ needs carefully and contacted parents of children who this applies to.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at the school.

As the debate on FSAs heats up, there is an undeniable tension between the claims of the Ministry and the reality for schools. The Ministry claims that the FSA is a "snapshot". For this to be true, no preparation or "teaching to the test" should occur, no Administrator or anyone else should be making any decisions or actions that would in any way influence the outcome of the tests. Parents should not be prepping their children and sample tests should not be published on the web. And yet individual schools reputations are inseparabely linked to the outcomes through the Fraser Institute rankings. At the school level, Administrators feel pressure to have good results. This makes their school "look good" and probably has an impact on enrollment levels. In an atmosphere of budget shortfalls, enrollment dips can lead to school closures. All of which contributes to an environment where individuals are motivated to try and ensure the test results of their school are high.

Schools should not be under this pressure. FSAs, to be a "snapshot" of the system, should be administered on a random sample basis.

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