At least, it should be. The Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) was introduced to grade four and seven BC students in 1998 to replace the census tests that were given to a random sample of students. And, apparently, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has opposed the FSA ever since, arguing that the test disrupts classroom learning, adds unnecessary stress to students, creates an unhealthy feeling of competition/comparison between schools, and is not a fair assessment of students’ knowledge or their teachers.

According to a report from the Vancouver Sun in 2013, the BCTF predicted the FSA would be gone by last year, since, “the controversial tests are in direct conflict with the government’s new BC Education Plan.” While the FSA isn’t gone yet, it does look like BC teachers are taking steps to say good riddance to the test, as the teachers’ union sends letters and encourages parents to ask for exemptions from the test, despite the ministry’s insistence that the tests aren’t optional.

So the BC Ministry of Education administers these tests to help measure student success and identify concerns, yet the BCTF, and the people who are actually in classrooms, working with and assessing individual students, are crying out that these tests aren’t useful? How confusing!

Here are my two cents:  I get how random testing pre-’98 didn’t work because it wasn’t “big picture” enough, but how does a standardized test work if, in the unwritten rules, you’re allowed to opt out? If a standardized test is something the education system needs, then make it mandatory. Unfortunately, it seems like most teachers disagree with the test anyway. With one-third of students opting out, like last year in Vancouver, this is far from a big picture evaluation.

I don’t think the FSA is a fair evaluation of student knowledge for a few reasons. The BCTF argues the test puts students under unnecessary stress. I can see that because I have terrible exam anxiety. However, on the flip side of students taking the test seriously and being stressed, they might also not try at all and forfeit questions they would’ve otherwise tried harder on if the test counted towards their grades.

From what I understand, the FSA is supposed to be reflective of the curriculum that teachers across BC are meant to follow, and the FSA material should be part of what a teacher is teaching from day to day. And parents have a right to know if their student, and their school on average, is reaching the industry standard of education. But isn’t there a better way to give an overview of success? These aren’t law students, and this isn’t a bar exam, for goodness sake. If you want to see how a kid is doing compared to his peers across the country, why not make it part of their curriculum to do a range of “tests” and observe the data without the students needing to know about it?

Despite the saying “life is a test,” it really isn’t. Often it’s a project, speech, debate, or team assignment—things that are already happening within classrooms but aren’t taken into account during FSAs. If you’re going to do a study to determine education patterns across a province, there needs to be more components than students sitting down and writing a test for four hours. And if the government thinks there would be too much variation and bias in teachers grading projects or group assignments, why don’t they assign a representative to do a blind grading?

Plus, with all we know now, not only about different types of learning disabilities, but also about the different types of learning styles, why are we still using such a backward, black-and-white method to evaluate education? We should look to reach further than just recognizing the three main learning styles (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) and strive towards an education system that’s as creative and individual as the students in it. We should raise our standards.