Eight in ten B.C. parents support standardized testing—the BCTF does not

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Appeared in the Globe and Mail, January 29, 2022
Eight in ten B.C. parents support standardized testing—the BCTF does not

Despite opposition from teacher unions, eight out of 10 British Columbia parents of K-12 children support standardized testing, which helps parents understand how their child—and their child’s school—is doing in reading, writing and math.

A new poll by Leger, commissioned by the Fraser Institute, surveyed 1,204 parents of children aged five to 17 in public and independent schools. The poll found that an overwhelming majority of parents in Canada support standardized testing. Again, in B.C. specifically, 80 per cent of parents support standardized testing, and among those parents 43 per cent expressed strong support.

And yet, the BC Teachers’ Federation, which represents all public school teachers in the province, continues to attack standardized testing and recently called on parents to opt their children out of the Foundation Skills Assessments (FSA)—tests that assess the academic proficiency of B.C. students in Grades Four and Seven. B.C. students also write literacy assessments in Grades 10 and 12 and a numeracy assessment in Grade 10.

The BCTF has also created a petition urging the Horgan government to cancel the FSAs. The union’s campaign against these tests predates the pandemic by at least 10 years, but during COVID, the union says the tests are a waste of time “especially now.”

As the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste.

Clearly, however, this new Leger poll places the teacher union’s anti-testing stance firmly out of step with the vast majority of B.C. parents. Only 14 per cent of B.C. parents of K-12 children expressed opposition to standardized tests, with only five per cent of parents strongly opposing testing.

There’s also the related issue of testing quality. Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, standardized testing in B.C. had shifted from standardized exams, which accounted for a portion of all secondary student grades, to student assessments in Grade 10 and 12, which have no impact on student grades. As a result, the participation rate for these new “mandatory” Grade 10 literacy and numeracy assessments is poor and the results are even worse.

For example, in 2019/20, a year partially impacted by COVID-related school closures, only 52 per cent of Grade 10 students completed the “mandatory” literacy assessment and only 42 per cent completed the “mandatory” numeracy assessment. Obviously, testing in B.C. is not delivering the same quality of data for parents and educators that they received before this shift. (And you can’t simply blame low participation on the pandemic, as the Grade 10 numeracy assessment saw three years of low participation rates beginning pre-COVID.)

Incidentally, only 74 per cent of students who participated were proficient in literacy and only 40 per cent were proficient in math. For B.C. students to improve, it’s critical that those who care most about their education be given a clear picture of where students stand academically, so every B.C. student can be supported and succeed in school.

Finally, on a separate question the Leger poll found that 96 per cent of B.C. parents of K-12 children think it’s important to know, by a fair and objective measure, how their child is doing (in reading, writing and math) relative to other students. More specifically, 73 per cent of parents believe this is very important compared to only four per cent who think it’s not.

B.C. kids have suffered frequent disruptions in their learning over these past two years. Parents overwhelmingly support standardized testing and want to know how their children are doing in school. Delivering on that expectation, despite opposition from teacher unions, should be a priority for the government in Victoria.

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