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    B.C. New Democrats promise to revamp school tests if elected in May

    VICTORIA - The Opposition New Democrats say an NDP government would get rid of the standardized tests that the teachers' union has fought against for years, but the party's education critic says they'll be replaced by some other kind of province-wide testing.

    Robin Austin said the New Democrats' aim is to remodel the Foundation Skills Assessment tests of students in Grades 4 and 7 to ensure they measure more than students' writing and math skills.

    He said his party would introduce a system of random tests during its first year in office while consulting to develop a remodelled testing system that looks beyond student literacy and math skills.

    The NDP introduced the current FSA testing model when it was last in office, but the British Columbia Teachers' Federation has mounted a long campaign against them and every year, urges parents to boycott the tests.

    Austin denied the NDP's pre-campaign promise to do away with the tests is simply a rubber-stamp of the union's wishes.

    "No, no, not at all," said Austin. "Obviously, there are going to be teachers involved. They are the ones who spend most of the time with our kids. We are going to work with parents, with teachers and academics."

    Austin said the current tests aren't "nearly complex enough."

    "They give us a snapshot of just two things and certainly there are a lot more variables into whether a school is a great school than just having that snapshot of the foundation skills test."

    "We're not choosing the best car under $20,000 here," said Austin. "We're trying to assess something way more complex than that."

    Education Minister Don McRae defended the government's continued standardized testing of students as a means to determine reading and writing skills. The Foundation Skills Assessment tests provide schools with reliable indicators of student skills, he said.

    "We recognize that schools are made up of extra-curricular activities and that they're made up of fine arts and they are made up of academics, but at the same time we want to make sure that we can identify students and cohorts who struggle," he said.

    McRae said the FSA results are a tool that help measure strengths and weaknesses and point to areas where education officials can devote their time and resources.

    "If the NDP has some education platform issues, share them with the public," he said. "It's important that they talk with key stakeholders like parents, educators, principals and vice-principals. We all recognize in the education community that schools are more than just one test. Schools are a combination of everything."

    The teachers' union supports the NDP's plans, saying the current tests set to start next week are not a good measure of the education students receive, their needs or their overall classroom performance.

    BCTF President Susan Lambert said the NDP has been saying for the past year that it will eliminate the FSA tests and introduce new forms of testing after consulting with teachers and others.

    "What we would expect of any government is that they work with the profession and they determine what it is they want to assess," she said.

    Lambert said she believes curriculum assessments can be achieved through random testing at schools, but teachers should play the major role in assessing student classroom performance.

    "We believe the assessment of students is best done in the classroom from the perspective of the classroom's teacher and their relationship to that student," she said.

    Lambert said the BCTF isn't about to completely endorse the NDP's pre-election promise when it comes to student testing.

    "I reserve every right to criticize when the time comes," she said.

    Lambert said the BCTF has already sent every B.C. member of the legislature _ Liberal, New Democrat and Independent _ its Better Schools for B.C. platform that includes "authentic assessment practices."

    The plan to broaden the tests is one of the few election campaign promises the NDP has made so far, along with taxing banks to provide post-secondary students with non-refundable grants, restoring corporate income tax rates to 2008 levels and ditching the balanced budget law.


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