Thousands of teachers and union supporters rally in front of the B.C. legislature before the 2005 election. The union battles the government constantly on class size and other issues

B.C. goes backwards on education

VICTORIA – Guess who said this last week: “We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.”

No, it wasn’t B.C. Liberal leadership hopeful Kevin Falcon, who has gone quiet on education since he caused a stir with his proposal for merit pay for public school teachers.

And it wasn’t the Fraser Institute, which is about to release its latest rankings based on foundation skills assessment (FSA) tests in B.C. schools.

It was U.S. President Barack Obama, in his state of the union address. He was talking about Race to the Top, a federal bonus program he called “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”

“To all 50 states, we said, ‘If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.’”

B.C., meanwhile, is going backwards. After years of B.C. Teachers’ Federation sabotage of skills testing, the essential mechanism for any improvement in education techniques, the B.C. Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association abruptly surrendered a couple of weeks ago.

The tests aren’t flawed, association president Jameel Aziz admitted, but they have been “successfully undermined” by the BCTF.

Aziz listed three reasons for abandoning FSA tests. Two of them are factually wrong.

He claimed that after years of BCTF disruption tactics, participation has fallen below 50 per cent in some districts.

Ministry records show the lowest participation was 62 per cent, last year in the Vancouver school district. The provincial average was 83 per cent, despite letters sent home by teacher union locals telling parents the tests are bad and suggesting they find some excuse for their kids to skip them.

Aziz also blamed the Fraser Institute for its “misuse” of FSA data that “does not reflect the many unique challenges faced by individual schools, nor does it credit the many unique successes of individual schools.”

Wrong again, says Peter Cowley, the Fraser Institute’s director of school performance studies. He notes that the rankings track local factors such as parental income and the proportion of English as a second language or special needs.

“We’re hunting for schools that have shown that they are actually improving,” as well as those that are slipping, Cowley said.

Critics like to set up a straw man by comparing schools in rich urban areas with poor, remote schools. That’s “misuse,” designed to discredit the rankings and the tests.

Parents should start by looking at the performance of their own school over five years. Is it getting better or worse? Rural parents can look at similar regions of B.C. and see if comparable schools are doing better. All parents can ask what extra help their children are getting to improve their individual areas of weakness.

Aziz claimed that “some in government” have suggested FSA tests be replaced. Well, rookie cabinet minister Moira Stilwell has. For a more informed view, here’s Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid in an open letter to parents:

“The push by the BCTF to end the FSAs is political. It’s about hiding information you, as parents, have a right to know about your child’s education and future.”

Leadership candidate George Abbott made vague noises about supplementing FSA tests. Here is one change he could consider.

The tests measure reading, writing and arithmetic skills at Grades 4 and 7. They track the individual student’s performance, as well as that of the team of teachers he or she has had to that point.

Additional measurements could give a clearer picture of the performance of each individual teacher. Then Falcon’s merit pay idea could be implemented.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

Island Health issues safer drug-use tips ahead of music festival season

Health authority aims to reduce overdose risks at festivals

Vaping a growing problem in Sooke school district

Island’s chief medical officer raises the alarm

Three-car crash that includes RV snarls afternoon traffic on Highway 17

Northbound traffic approaching Quadra Street is down to single lane

Victoria among the host sites for 2020 BC curling championships

Curl BC announces the nine B.C. cities that will host games in 2020

West Shore RCMP bust drug lab after fire caused by production of cannabis shatter

View Royal lab near parks and children’s playgrounds, evidence of children in home

VIDEO: Tributes flow on 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death

Jackson received a fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009. He died at age 50

Vancouver Island woman assaulted after confronting thief

RCMP warn residents to call for police assistance

POLL: Do you think the penalty should be increased for tossing a burning cigarette from a vehicle?

With grasslands and forests around Vancouver Island and across B.C. reaching tinder… Continue reading

VIDEO: Killer whale steals fisherman’s catch off North Coast

Fishing duel results in eager orca snagging salmon in Prince Rupert

40 cats surrendered in apparent hoarding at B.C. home

Officers found the cats living among piles of garbage and feces, suffering from fleas

Campers hailed heroes in rock face rescue at Vancouver Island provincial park

The campers quickly noticed the man in distress and jumped into the river to swim across.

Tsilhqot’in Nation urges Taseko Mines to stop drilling plans before conflict grows

Nation said Teztan Biny area is of ‘profound cultural and spiritual importance’

Vancouver Aquarium drops cetacean ban lawsuit in new lease agreement

Ocean Wise CEO Lasse Gustavsson called the updated lease an exciting new chapter for the aquarium

Most Read