British Columbia teachers call for two-year moratorium on standardized tests... Help organize student boycott of tests in Vancouver

Unionized teachers in British Columbia, Canada, recently won a victory against school officials when they got an agreement to allow teachers to distribute union pamphlets opposing standardized tests to their students. The teachers are also calling for a two-year moratorium on standardized tests in the entire province.

Above, former British Columbia Federation of Teachers president Jinny Sims speaks to a group organized by CORE and Teachers for Social Justice at Casa Aztlan in Chicago on June 7, 2008. The Jinny Sims visit helped catalyze CORE, which was organizing itself at the time. Sims led the October 2005 strike that closed the schools of the entire Canadian province of British Columbia for nearly a month. The event was ignored in the media in the USA. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.According to a recent (December 22, 2009) report in the Vancouver Sun, teachers in British Columbia are calling for a two-year moratorium on standardized testing in the entire province and recently won the right to send home with students three union-produced pamphlets making the case against the use of standardized tests.

The British Columbia teachers have led Canada in opposing the abuses of standardized testing and have also been among the most militant in North America since the beginning of the century. In October 2005, they led a lengthy strike against neo-liberal attacks on public education in the province. The strike was reported exclusively in Chicago in Substance. [See]. More recently, former B.C. teachers union president Jinny Sims spoke in Chicago during a series of meetings that helped launch CORE (Chicago's Caucus Of Rank and file Educators). [see ].

In June 2009, the BC Federation of Teachers presented the provincial government with their proposal for a two-year moratorium on standardized testing. Available in PDF format at the BC teachers federation website (address in the following paragraph), the lengthy proposal is also reproduced here:

Standardized Testing Moratorium and Task Force Brief 2009 (BC Teachers’ Federation http:// www. AndPositionPapers.aspx)

The BC Teachers’ Federation seeks to foster a constructive discussion on the issue of

standardized testing. To that end, the Federation urges the BC Ministry of Education to adopt a

two-year moratorium on all standardized tests, including the Foundation Skills Assessment

(FSA) and the Grade 10, 11, and 12 provincial examinations.

The BCTF further calls for government to establish a Testing and Assessment Task Force to explore the issues and information about assessment and to make recommendations to government before the conclusion of the moratorium. This task force should have on it a majority of teachers selected by the BCTF on a representative basis.

This is not a call for an end to all testing. Classroom teachers will continue to use tests for diagnostic or instructional purposes, for formative as well as summative evaluation.

Why a moratorium?

The use of standardized tests has been a subject of professional, parental, and public discussion and debate. This has particularly been true of the Foundation Skills Assessment, but teachers in secondary schools are also concerned about negative impacts of Grade 10, 11, and 12 exams. A

moratorium would clear the air for the kind of professional and public debate that should go on

about important educational issues. A moratorium would signal a willingness to have these

policies debated, in place of the imposition in the past that helped to create an environment that

is not healthy for children or for the adults involved in the education of our children and youth. A

moratorium would allow all parties the opportunity to identify policies and practices that would

both address stakeholder objectives and reconcile our differences; it would also signal a desire

for collaboration and engagement over the disrespectful climate of control and confrontation.

Why a Testing and Assessment Task Force?

The creation of a task force would create a venue for the education debate over testing and

assessment that should be focused on developing understanding and consensus. The BCTF believes that the many groups with an interest in public education should be included in the discussions facilitated by the task force. Voices from the classroom—a majority being representative teachers—should play a central role in formulating the questions and the recommendations. However, the task force should be open in its processes to hear the other

voices on these issues, as well.

What are the issues that should be examined by the task force?

1. The drive to standardization that is a direct result of the census application of provincial tests

The census application of the tests and the promotion of high test scores as the objective of

schooling leads to a competition for marks, and the identification of standard practice and

standard curriculum. This competition then sacrifices curriculum breadth and depth, academic rigour, and the ability of the teacher to design instruction to meet individual students’ needs.

Large scale testing compromises sound pedagogy….Although EQAO tests only contain a small subset of [curriculum] expectations, teachers do not know which ones will be assessed in any one year. Accordingly, they are forced to cover all expectations in breadth but do not have time to teach them in depth. (Hilda Watkins, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario)

2. The misuse of test results to create school rankings by the Fraser Institute

All the partners in education in BC — teachers, administrators, parents, and ministers of education — have condemned the way in which these results are used. The current structure of the Foundations Skills Assessment ensures that the Fraser Institute will be able to continue to use these results inappropriately. That can be stopped by moving to another structure for assessment — a random sample.

A random-sample application can be designed to ensure that the objectives of the ministry are met. Such a sample would have to be able to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum and to identify subgroups, such as students with special needs or Aboriginal students, and determine whether or not the system is serving these students appropriately.

3. The need for assessment and evaluation processes that are appropriate for a particular


An assessment that provides information to a teacher about what an individual student needs in order to develop understanding of a subject or topic is different from an assessment of how well an education system is performing according to general goals for education. The researchers who make up the American Education Research Association point out that “in using the same test for multiple high-stakes purposes, policymakers are at odds with the professional standards of the testing and measurement community” (McDonnell, 2005, 45).

A moratorium and task force would provide the opportunity to clarify and support assessments for teaching and learning purposes while also identifying assessments for system evaluation that are appropriate for that purpose. An examination of the value of a randomized assessment for system evaluation purposes should be examined by the task force, with recommendations on appropriateness.

4. An analysis of the educational value of existing provincial and local assessments

The existing provincial programs need to be analyzed in relationship to their educational value. Is the FSA being used in conflicting and competing ways that undermine any value it might have? Are the Grade 10, 11, and 12 exams having an impact on curricular flexibility and deep learning?

However, looking at provincial tests is only a part of the task. Local standardized exams are being used, often without a substantial assessment of their value and appropriateness. The task force should assess these assessments and develop recommendations on quality and appropriateness.

5. A look at other models of assessment and the success of Finland which operates without

a standardized testing program

The success of Finland on international, randomized assessments rests in a system that depends not on standardized testing, but on a highly educated and supported community of teachers. In contrast, a number of education systems that have been test-driven are much less successful. Protests against the heavy testing regimes are arising in many countries, including in Britain and the United States.

In Canada, the Alberta legislature passed a motion calling on government to stop the census testing of Grade 3 students on an equivalent to the BC FSA. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation has also called for random assessments and using more than a single test result to evaluate schools.

6. Impact on the joy of learning

Ultimately, the main gift a teacher and a school can give to students is the joy of learning that will carry them throughout their life. Standardized testing produces a negative influence on this.

Standardized tests narrow the curriculum as teachers teach to the test, with implicit and explicit demands that students be prepared for the test rather than supported in exploring the world, whether a topic will be on a test or not.

The greatest educational motivator is intense interest in a topic that leads to exploration and depth of learning. In the test-driven classroom, intense exploration of interest is often lost by

a demand to keep going through the curriculum and covering the topics the testmakers will

likely have included on the standardized exam.

For the marginal student, the focus on preparing for the test becomes another blow to their attempts to get an education. Rather than building on their strengths and interests, the testdriven classroom focuses on someone else’s choices.

These are some of the reasons education researcher Andy Hargreaves says that we are

moving into a “post-standardization” world.

The BCTF believes that a broad and open discussion of testing and assessment during a

moratorium could lead to better public policy, engage teachers in important discussions of

educational practice, produce deeper understanding by parents of the learning process, and,

most importantly, create more opportunities to motivate students toward deep learning.

McDonnell, L. (2005). “Assessment and Accountability from the Policymaker’s Perspective.” In

Herman, J. and Haertel, E. Uses and Misuses of Data for Educational Accountability and

Improvement. Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education.

News reports out of British Columbia show how the B.C. teachers are organizing with a strategic perspective. According to the Vancouver Sun (see below), B.C. teachers' agitation to encourage students and their families to opt out of the tests has resulted in one-third of the students in Vancouver no longer participating in the testing program. The same thing would happen in Chicago were the Chicago Teachers Union to follow the Canadian example. Parents in Chicago are waiting to have their children freed from the tyranny of the tests.

The following article was distributed by Canwest News Service based on reports in the Vancouver Sun.

Deal lets teachers send anti-test pamphlets home with students; Compromise over controversial FSA exams avoids arbitration (Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 | 9:21 am Canwest News Service)

While Al Ramirez videotaped Jiinny Sims, the audience in June 2008 listened intently as she described the organizing it took for the BC Teachers Federation to successfully do a province-wide strike in October 2005 and continue organizing against attacks on public education in Canada since. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.A campaign against standardized tests in B.C. public schools is expected to intensify in January as a result of a deal between the B.C. Teachers' Federation and school employers that allows teachers to send three union pamphlets home with students and hand them to parents on school grounds.

The agreement marks a surprising compromise between two parties that have been feuding for years over what union materials teachers are allowed to distribute. That battle heats up around this time of the year in the lead-up to the annual Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA), which tests Grade 4 and 7 students in reading, writing and math.

Those tests are scheduled for Jan. 18 to Feb. 26.

"Common sense prevailed," BCTF vice-president Susan Lambert said of the deal with the B.C. Public School Employers' Association. The deal lasts for one year and effectively ends eight union grievances against districts that had tried recently to stop teachers from disseminating BCTF materials because of alleged inaccuracies.

"I think the process of going to fruitless arbitration and losing . . . over and over again was too costly for them," she added.

The employers' association, which represents boards of education in labour matters, described the agreement as a practical solution to eliminate conflict in districts and end the grievances. "It's an attempt to formalize what the rules are," said chief executive officer Hugh Finlayson, noting there have been many years of litigation over the issue.

Approved for distribution are pamphlets titled What Parents Need to Know, What Parents Need to Know: Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) and Testing? You Bet. Teachers will now decide if they want to distribute them or send them home with students in the required sealed envelopes.

The pamphlets argue that standardized tests force teachers to narrow instruction and "teach to the test," cause anxiety for students and do little to improve achievement. But the main reason the union objects to the FSA is because the results are used by the Fraser Institute every year to rank elementary schools.

The Education Ministry insists the tests are not optional. But the BCTF campaign has drawn down participation rates in recent years–especially in Vancouver, where one in three students did not write the FSA last year.

The BCTF plans to extend its anti-FSA message in early 2010 with newspaper and radio advertisements in Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin for the first time in order to reach ethnic groups that are believed to be more supportive of standardized tests.

Arbitrators have ruled that teachers have a right to engage in political discussions with parents on educational issues. Lambert said they also have a responsibility to inform parents of their professional concerns about testing.

The BCTF is calling for a two-year moratorium on the FSA and provincial exams to allow stakeholders to discuss better ways of assessment and accountability. 


December 28, 2009 at 11:33 PM

By: Jim Vail


It's just wonderful to read this.

And why not in Chicago?

And how dare our current union leadership in Chicago propose more of this b.s. merit pay.

This is something CORE and any self-respecting group of public school teachers should use as a model to force the debate back to common sense vs. the business model that is destroying our world.

Thanks Substance for reporting this!

December 29, 2009 at 10:29 AM

By: Margaret Wilson

Retired teacher/parent

I agree 100%. Teachers in Chicago need to have the same courage as Canadian teachers and refuse to give the tests. Our children need to be given back the joy of learning without all the pressure. Our Union has sold us out along with the students by agreeing to more testing for merit pay. Someone needs to put a stop to it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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