Accountability

Should anyone think my concerns of 30 yrs ago are stale or “old hat” see The Province (Vancouver, BC newspaper) of Tuesday, Nov 21, 2006 by Michael Smyth, regular columnist.

The story: “Teachers’ union fails test for accountability. Skills Assessment: Sabotaging annual class statistics hurts future education”

Every year, the Ministry of Education tests the abilities of kids in Grades 4 and 7 in the classic three r’s: reading, writing and arithmetic.
Although participation in the so-called Foundation Skills Assessment tests is voluntary and does not count toward final marks, about 90 per cent of eligible school kids take the test each year.
This year’s overall participation, however, was down about two per cent. Why? Very likely because of the boycott campaign against tests led by the B.C.Teachers Federation.
The teachers’ union urged parents to pull their kids out of the assessment tests, arguing the tests are “harmful” to kids by triggering “test anxiety” and damaging their sense of self-worth if they score poorly.
I find the union’s arguments absurd–as do most parents, according to groups such as the B.C.Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils.
As the largest advocacy group for parents of kids in the B.C. school system, BCCPAC agrees with the ministry’s argument that the tests are a useful tool for measuring the fundamental skills that children require to succee at school. Not to mention life.
The test results are used to make improvement in the school system. Parents are also sent their kids’ test results, giving them a direct accounting of their children’s education progress.
The teachers’ union opposes all of it and has gone to extreme lengths to convince parents to pull their kids out of the tests and to hamper the ministry’s actual conducting of the tests themselves.
In addition to pressuring parents, the union has urged its members in the past to refuse to conduct the tests unless directly ordered to do so by a supervisor.
Teachers ordered to conduct the tests were told by the union to not put labels on the test booklets, to not match up multiple-choice response forms and to not put insert sheets in the booklets. They were also told to not have students sign their test papers and to refuse to mark the tests.
What an appalling lack of professionalalism from a union that was just given a generous new contract that included a 16-per-cent wage hike and a $4,000 signing bonus for teachers. Is this their thank-youy to parents who pay their wages and support these important tests?
I wonder how many kids get “test anxiety” because of the fuss the teachers created?
The participation rate in this year’s assessment tests whows how badly out of touch with parents the union has become a two-per-cent drop in participation, despite the BCTF boycott campaign, shows parents massively rejected the union’s pressure tactics.
Now the test results are in and they show a disturbing dip in students’ reading and writing skills. Just 73 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting expectations in reading, a four-point drop over last year. (Grade 4 kids averaged 80 per cent, up one point.)
In writing, 90 per cent of Grade 4 students and 87 per cent of Grade 7 students are meeting or exceeding expections, both down three point from last year. Scores in math modestly improved this year in both grades.
The Ministry of Education will now take these numbers and try to make improvement. As they do so, they know which school districts, individual schools districts, individual schools and even individual classrooms are having trouble.
Is that the real reason the BCTF opposes these tests? At the end of the day, these results are about accountability for teachers as well as for students.
There are few things more important to our kids’ furure than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract. Rather than bad-mouth, boycott and sabotage these tests, the BCTF should carefully examine the results and commit themselves to doing better.

The next day, Nov.22/06, very predictably, the Teachers’ Union president, Jinny Sims, produced the expected response:

BCTF responds

We agree with Michael Smyth that few things are more important to our kids’ future than making sure they can read, write, add and subtract.
But we draw the line at his misguided efforts to blame the B.C.Teachers Federation for the dip in student achievement levels in government tests.
Research shows large-scale testing can have negative effects on student motivation and learning, especially for low-achieving students.
That’s why teachers are frustrated with the lack of understanding that their classroom assessment is preferable to government’s large-scale assessment.
True, the BCTF encourages parents to boycott government tests, because those asessments fail to produce an accurate portrayal of how their children are performing academically.
Smyth needs to understand the difference between assessment for learning and assessment of learning.
When parents want to know how their children are doing in class, they shouln’t ask the government.
They should ask those who work with those kids on a daily basis: the trained professionals who will provide more than just a test score.

Jinny Sims, President, BCTF

The next day, Nov 23/06, a parent responds:

Test score needed

What is B.C. Teachers Federation president Jinny Sims afraid of?

Is it that we will actually find out how our kids are doing?

While the evaluation of students by their teachers is valuable, they can be subjective.

We need the “trained professionals” and a test score from an unbiased, objective source.

Cherryl Katnich, Maple Ridge

Short and sweet, AND a parent point-of-view.

While I am in the process at the moment of producing reviews of three very important books that illuminate the issue of accountability (for future posts) I direct you to the titles of these books and you can look up the reviews on the Internet or get them from your library for now.

Important Books on Accountability in Education

– Public Education: An Autopsy
Myron Lieberman, 1993, Harvard University Press

– The Teacher Unions: How they Sabotage Educational reform and Why
Myron Lieberman, 1997, the Free Press, New York

– PTA: The Untold Story
Charlene K. Haar

An important article is printable from the Internet

Teacher Unions and Parent Involvement (from the EPI series on Teacher Unions) by Charlene K. Haar from the site

Go to Search and ask for Education Policy Institute

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