Day 97 (of 185) on FSAs

Day 97 (of 185) on FSAs

Today the students in our school started our annual Foundation Skills Assessment. A standardized test for grade 4 and 7 students in our province.



I like to think of it as a “check of the tire pressure”. It doesn’t tell you the whole picture of the learning process…..but is a way to check in on what our students “remember” from previous grades teachings. Much of the test I don’t mind:


  • A section where you read two passages and compare/contrast them <— this is something that I know I never spend enough time doing – a lot of time thinking and rethinking of single works, but the comparison is something I should do more often (even in the library)
  • A short-write where students give some thinking (and this is connected to the reading section done previously) to an assigned writing topic.
  • A long-write section where students create a story/essay based on a specific topic. Here is where I cheat: I let the students read the prompt on day one and review it along the way so that they can have the brain spend some time thinking about it —> especially when they are asked to think about something that some of them have no experience with……like this year…..
  • Two “show your work” numeracy questions – where how you got to your answer is actually more valuable than just knowing what the final answer is.

Each of these are commonly done in classrooms as they allow students to have individual choice



The online sections that are exclusively multiple-choice questions give me the greatest pause – an evaluation method that I encourage many to move away from (although I will give credit that in the summary, there are “common mistake” answers that can give the teacher information about why there may be mistakes made…….as long as this summary is looked at……and not just the “final number evaluation” <— but isn’t this always the only part that’s looked at? and with numeracy are we testing on numeracy skills or reading skills (just asking…!)



Really, my biggest issue with this common-assessment is how it is taken and used to rank schools – not something that it was designed or meant to do. If anything, it makes me think that students that do very well on the multiple-choice portion have spent too much time practicing with multiple-choice tests… too many students and teachers have to do in some education jurisdictions.  The parallel could be if I were to evaluate and expect all my teachers to work in the exact same way….when I know that different teaching styles are very important to connect with learners in different ways…..we want to move away from thinking that students who do not “fit nicely into the box” aren’t different….but rather that they need differentiation. The FSA is not an evaluation of schools…



And my worry is that too many people want a “standardized assessment comparison” in a more and more “personalized” world. I still remember many years ago how a student I had did not do well on the multiple choice format but flourished in the write-out section because it allowed him to tackle the question in an open-ended way. The era of needing everyone to know and do everything “in common” has been passed by….and while I still advocate for the importance of basic skills…..I still differentiate “fluency” as it connects with speed. I would rather someone reads slowly but understands what they read rather than read the blended letters fast but not understanding anything they read…..likewise in numeracy, I would rather have someone spend time counting on their fingers than knowing that 4×2=8 because that’s what the flashcard said. And I worry that school comparisons made are based on how students perform on a standardized test rather than the learning that is happening within the classrooms.



For instance, I know my son did not score well on one part of the FSA that he wrote (a couple of years ago), but when I asked him why he did what he did (his long write opened very well on page one, but pages 2-4 were written in about size 240 font – one letter/page) he shared that that the test didn’t ask him to write on all four pages, but to “fill in” up to four pages… he did….but that’s not what this test was designed to measure….!



Standardized tests have a value (I appreciate them for helping identify students that need extra supports – and why they need them) for some students….and at some times. But they are a measurement at a specific point in time that does not take a lot of things into consideration…..but like an oil change, while it can let you know if something specific may need more support – but it still doesn’t tell you how the transmission is doing….so….those choosing schools based on a single measurement….may need to be aware that there are many other components that need to be looked at as well!

About technolandy

Principaling on the Pacific in Powell River BC Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback to personalize learning!
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