Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What does how they did at school mean?

The fight over the FSA tests continue and the arguments abound about the importance of the tests and the problems with the tests.  The University of BC's Human, Early Learning Partnership did a study that used the results of the FSA's to help them draw some conclusions.

I am sure the FSA test results helped the researchers come up with a narrowly defined set of parameters that allows them to measure one aspect of schooling. and then using those results they drew some bigger conclusions.

The question is, in my mind is  what should we, as a society,  be defining as doing well at school.  Now I have a biases, as I have taught in both the Practical and Fine arts and worked with many different types of students from Special Needs to gifted,  as well, I have worked in Inner city as well as high income schools over the last 37 years.

As a result of my experience,  I believe we need to take a broader view of what it means to do well at school that is broader then looking only at  FSA results. I believe that we should have benchmarks that measure how well students do at school, but these benchmarks should go beyond reading. writing and numeracy.  The benchmarks should also include the development of:

1.     Social skills

2.     Fine Art skills

3.     Athletic skills

4.     Self worth

5.     Career opportunities and

6.     Economics.

So I was interested that Paul Wilcox in his blog on January 25 titled

 FSA tests far too useful to boycott or kill  said some interesting things some of which I would like to comment on.

Paul said "The University of B.C.'s Human Early Learning Partnership, for example, used FSA data to look at the link between where children lived and how they did in school.

This makes sense, but what measurement did the researchers use to define the term "how they did in school"?  Paul implies that criteria is FSA results, which is fine if you want to look at a very narrow interpretation of what schools should be doing. FSA tests skills students learn over a number of years in reading, writing and numeracy but FSA results do not measure social skill, athletic skills or fine art skill development of students. All of the skill sets are important to student success in society.

Yesterday I published the grade 8 graduation test from 1895. The questions on that test cover many areas of the curriculum and define a well educated person. FSA testing does not in my mind define a well educated person. The tests do however; measure a very narrow scope of what we do in education.

The researchers followed 2,648 students from kindergarten to Grade 7. Partly, the findings were expected. Children from affluent neighbourhoods had better skills, unsurprising given advantages from preschool programs to better nutrition. But the study also found that even if students moved to more affluent neighbourhoods, their performance in basic skills lagged.

I am not sure what is suggested here but some questions arise for me. Since FSA results measure student’s progress over a number of years should this result be seen as a surprise. How did the researchers get individual student results as I was under the impression that school results were public not individual results. If the researchers are basing the lack of improvement on school results can they be sure that the same students wrote the tests in Grade 4 and Grade 7. It is not surprising that a student may take a few years for students to catch up to their peers but I wonder how many students moved to a more affluent neighbourhood? If the numbers were small can they be valid? Did the study also look at students who moved to a less affluent neighbourhood; if so what happened with these students did their results go up or down or remain the same?

That's important for anyone who cares about equal opportunity for children. The research shows the focus has to be on children's lives from birth to the time the start kindergarten.

So the question Paul is raising is about equal opportunity for children, which is an interesting idea, but one that is difficult to address. I would argue that BC has equal opportunity in our education system. I don't think it matters if a student enters school in an affluent or an inner city school, the quality of teachers and the quality of education given is very high for all.  Some would argue that we do not have equal opportunity in schools, but that argument in my mind is not valid. So where do we fall down as a society when we think abut equal opportunity for children, and I think the answer is about the number of children in poverty in this province. Parents in less affluent homes cannot provide the advantages such as pre-school or better nutrition that parents in more affluent homes can provide. I am not sure if  this study saying that the province should have more say in what/how parents raise or educate their child from birth to kindergarten or should the province spend more on pre-school education?

And according to the researchers, the study would have been impossible without the FSA test results."

I worked with many teacher researchers in my ten years as Curriculum Chair at the University of Phoenix (Vancouver Campus) and know that researchers can generate their own set of benchmarks to use if they want or need to have benchmarks. The FSA results provided the researchers with easy to access benchmarks to use, but to say the study would have been impossible without FSA test results is simply not true.  The research done certainly would have been harder to do, but it would have been done. The argument of impossibility is an exaggeration and in my mind takes away from the conclusions reached by the study.

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