Wednesday, February 06, 2008

FSA Day 1 -- reading comprehension

FSA is Foundation Skills Assessment, a set of standardized tests all students in our province in Grades 4 and 7 are required to write. By virtue of being enrolled in the Wondertree Self-Design homeschool program, rather than simply registered as a homeschooler, Sophie is considered a Grade 4 student. We get some perks from the SelfDesign program, and in weighing the pros and cons of keeping her enrolled there this year we looked at the standardized testing issue. She's a pretty easy-going kid who has no overwhelming anxieties about reading, writing or math. She's got excellent academic skills. I figured it wouldn't cause her any appreciable stress to write these tests. Yes, I'm philosophically opposed to standardized testing, but I'm philosophically supportive of what the Wondertree SelfDesign program is doing -- creating a community of support and some financial help through the government to offset educational expenses for unschoolers. This radical program walks a fine line with the government; what they're doing is pushing boundaries, questioning assumptions, and yet playing the game to the extent that the government will work with them and provide the funding. And part of 'playing the game' means creating the expectation that their 9- and 12-year-old learners will write these FSA exams.

It could be worse. The results do not go on the student's record, only on the school's. The tests are relatively brief and relatively basic... reading, writing and math, an hour and a half a day for three days. For our learners, they are administered at home, supervised by family friends or even (if necessary) by parents. Almost half the testing is computer-based. The writing portions can be done by hand or on the computer.

And so we agreed to do this in order to support the SelfDesign program in its relationship with the governmental Ministry of Education. We've kept it very low-key. I didn't go through any test prep at all with Sophie. She didn't do any practice tests, all we did was briefly talk about the format and intent of the tests to demystify the process.

Today we did the reading comprehension portion of the FSA testing with Sophie and two other girls, unschooling friends enrolled in the same program. Overall it went fine. I think it really helped that they were all in it together. They felt like they were all doing this slightly weird experiment with what school is like. We made it into a somewhat special occasion by allowing for some social time and some junky snack food. On Friday when they're all done we'll invite the rest of the siblings and have a movie and popcorn party.

This is the first time Sophie has ever written a test. She thought it was sorta stupid but mostly painless. She disliked the written tidbit but gritted her teeth and did it in good spirits. We are all secretly dreading the writing portion which they'll do tomorrow. All three write reasonably well but intensely dislike "writing to task" like this. We shall see.


  1. As I'm reading your post, my printer is churning out said FSA test papers! Tomorrow we start! I have one Grade 7 and one Grade 4, so am hoping we will come out of this week with our sanity intact.

  2. That's been one of my issues with my ds's charter school - testing in second grade (then 5th, etc.). I need to weigh the brevity of testing against the perks of the charter school!

  3. I'll be interested in how Sophie does. Are you going to post on your blog?

  4. I'll certainly share the results as best we understand them (assuming that's okay with Sophie). However, I think all we are told is whether the child is meeting expectations, exceeding expectations or not yet meeting expectations, so I doubt if the information will be at all edifying.

  5. From what I understand, individual FSA results are not made available. Only statistics for each school are made available and the percentage of students not meeting, meeting, or exceeding.

  6. Actually individual FSA results are available, at least through the program we're with. This may be relatively new, a concession to the BCTF perhaps, which opposes the testing on the grounds that it's used chiefly to rank and rate schools. Last year's learners who were tested received results. What they didn't receive was the actual marked test back, but apparently we'll be receiving that too -- on the off-chance that reviewing the answers and marking could provide helpful feedback to the learner.


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