Crazy Little Thing Called Twitter And The FSAs

At first I lurked.  

I’d log on to and scroll through the streams, fascinated.  

I started to tweet in support of my campaign during the 2011 civic election and now it’s part of my daily routine.

With Twitter, I keep an eye on my community.  I get news from around the world. I read analyses of issues and events from different perspectives. I interact with well-known figures and people in faraway places, opportunities I may never have had otherwise.

Twitter is also ugly at times, “nasty, brutish, and short” in the words of Thomas Hobbes.  And while it is liberating to talk to so many so easily, Twitter is also constraining.


My Twitter account is a mirror of who I am as a whole person, but that whole person includes being a public figure. I have to be aware that although I am speaking personally, some may mistakenly take my views as those of the West Vancouver Board of Education.  I have to be aware that while I distinguish between the different hats I wear in life and the various roles I play, others may not.

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Which brings me to the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSAs), a test administered to Grade 4 and Grade 7 students throughout British Columbia.  

Twitter streams were on fire about the FSAs recently, but I kept mum. I felt that whatever I said in 140 characters could be mischaracterized.

Here’s some of what I wanted to say.  

As a parent, I had no objection to my child writing the FSA.  As a Trustee, I see value in the data collected because it can be used to align resources with demonstrated need.

Here’s the problem: what we want the FSA to do and what is done with the FSA results have diverged.

FSA data, in addition to use by the provincial government and by school districts, is used by a third-party organization to rank schools.  

The Fraser Institute rankings are myopic: they claim to present an overall picture of a school, but the rankings seem to be unduly weighted on one factor, FSA scores. 

Rather than the FSA, why not invest in developing literacy screeners for key grades, the results of which would be privately held and exclusively used by the school, the district, and the student’s family? I’m thinking of something like the early literacy screening used for kindergarten students in West Vancouver. 

And while I acknowledge that provincial measures are needed for accountability purposes, perhaps a better method of tracking student performance could be determined through a consultative process with key partner groups.

Perhaps by separating the two requirements — diagnostic and reporting — and by creating mechanisms for each, we would be spared the yearly rankling spectacle of school rankings.  

At our January public board meeting, Sandra-Lynn Shortall, District Principal – Early Learning, paraphrased a conversation she’d had with Dr. Stuart Shanker.  “Early intervention,” she said, “is not the answer to helping students address their needs, rather it’s continuous intervention and connectedness.”

Just as Twitter is not always the best mode of communication, the FSA may not be the best mechanism to match vulnerable or struggling students with the continuing supports they need to succeed in our public education system.

I think we can do better.