Foundations Skill Assessments (FSAs) are government-mandated standardized tests for Grade four and seven students across the province. I recognize that these tests are valuable to give parents and educators alike a snapshot of each child's progress in comparison to other children across the province. FSAs often get bad press because the results are public and can be manipulated to rank schools, which it never intended to do. Unfortunately, children hear about it and become a bit scared about how these tests will affect their grades, school reputation and peer rerlationships.
In an attempt to alleviate the anxiety it brings, I begin my introduction of upcoming tests to the Grade fours with this story:
Twenty year old Johnny Test graduated a few years ago, but he remembers with fondness his Grade four teacher, Mr. Chers. Students did everything they could to find out what his first name was, but to this day, it was never discovered. The deal was, if they could guess his name correctly, he would tell them if they were correct. The only hint he would give them was that it began with a “T.” Ever since, he was affectionately known as Mr. T.
Johnny remembered it like it was yesterday. Mr. T stood in front of the class and warned them a month in advance about the arrival of the dreaded FSA giant. He had said that it came every year; it was impossible to avoid. It struck fear in the hearts of all those it was mentioned to. Hallways were known to go silent at the mention of its arrival. Teachers had resisted it, principals had denounced them and entire school districts had ganged up to fight it. Alas, each year without fail, the FSA monster would seek out and wreak havoc on poor little Grade four students everywhere.
Mr. T seemed unfazed by the FSA giant. He made it quite clear to Johnny and the other children that he knew how to tame the monster. He would teach his students about his secret weapon, so that when the giant eventually came, they could handle it easily.
Johnny Test clearly remembered going home and worrying about the monster. In fact, the first night he heard of it, he dreamed of what it might look like. In his dream, he pictured the giant crashing through the tiny cities hunting out and destroying schools along the way. It was truly a giant, robotic in nature and sent by foreign forces seeking to ruin little Grade four students everywhere.
The next day, Johnny went to school expecting his first day of training. Instead, Mr. T walked calmly into class and said the same thing he said every day. “Get out your pencils and a piece of paper.”
Cautiously, Johnny questioned, “Mr. T, will you tell us more about the FSA monster?”
“Of course. It comes once a year, instilling fear everywhere he goes. Teachers across the province live in terror, dreading the day it arrives. They feel powerless to stop him. However, I know a lot about him. I can train you to tame the monster. I have the right weapon to make this giant beast lie down and submit to the smallest Grade four student. But enough about him, it’s time to start class. Take out a pencil and paper.”
Johnny was beginning to feel desperate. What weapon had Mr. T discovered that could neutralize the beast? When would they begin their training? When would they learn to use the weapon?
Once again, Johnny Test lay awake that night, thinking about what Mr. T said. He vividly remembered a nightmare from that night. He found himself alone in his classroom. Slowly looking around, he noticed the big green cupboard was ajar. That cupboard was never open; Mr. T always kept it locked. This must be where he kept his weapon to fight the giant. Johnny couldn’t restrain himself any longer, he had to have a quick look at the weapons. Inside the cupboard, there were empty holders of all types and sizes. Any type of weapon could be housed there. However there was nothing inside but a small box on the bottom shelf. Cautiously, he reached for the box. A laser beam shone on his arm, triggering a loud alarm. It made him jump back from the cupboard in fear.
It was simply his alarm clock, waking him up from his deep and troubled sleep. Johnny questioned whether Mr. T would really teach children to use a weapon in school. What possible tools had Mr. T discovered that would allow nine year olds to fight such a giant opponent?
Johnny Test arrived at school that morning ready and willing to begin military training. He could hardly wait to see what Mr. T had in store. Once again, Mr. T seemed more intent on doing what he did every day; always starting with a devotion, collecting homework, making an encouraging remark, then insisting students pull out a pencil and paper.
“Please, Mr. T,” Johnny asked, “Could I see what weapons you have for us to use against the upcoming attack?” inquired Johnny. Mr. T smiled and walked to the back of the classroom. He unlocked the big green cupboard and lifted out a small rectangular box. Johnny wondered how on earth such a little box could hold a reputed weapon of mass destruction.
“This is all you will need.” A smug look rolled across Mr. T’s face. He placed the box back on the shelf and taught on.
Finally, the big day arrived. News channels were arguing about the damage the tests would do to the students. Headlines in the newspapers described in bitter detail how it was to ruin every teacher's class. Johnny took his regular seat. The room was silent. Students looked at each other with saucer-sized eyes, not knowing what to expect. Mr. T walked to the front of the classroom. The FSAs had arrived; Johnny was horrified about facing the hideous FSAs without help. The principal seemed resigned as he slipped into the back of the classroom. Mr. T pulled out the little box. He shook it a bit. Every eye was on him. Silence. Not a child moved. He started to unfold the side flap.
Wasn’t it too late to show them the weapon? Had Mr. T lost his edge? They had known a month ago that the FSAs were coming and they clearly remembered learning nothing of any military strategy. They recalled no weapon training. He had no recollection of even one hint of tactical defense plans. They didn’t even know what the secret weapon looked like.
Finally, Mr. T finished opening the box. Curiosity. Silence. He tipped the box on its side and something long and narrow slid out. It looked familiar. Suddenly, Johnny understood. He was fully trained in using this weapon, in fact, he knew everything about it. He knew instinctively how to grasp it. He knew how to sharpen it more pointy than a pin. He knew how to spin it to rub out ill fated attacks. It was nothing more than a common pencil.
Mr. T laid a paper booklet on each student’s desk. It had “FSA” written on the cover. At Mr. T’s request, each student flipped the book open to the first page. It was a puzzle for Johnny to solve. On the second page, it was an opportunity for Johnny to write his opinion down. Johnny Test was ready, oh so ready, for this. He would show the world that the dreaded FSAs had nothing on him. He would attack the booklet with a vengeance. He would protect the school from its intrusion. It truly was up to him to lance and parry his way to victory.
If you ask Johnny Test for a moral to his story, he would look at you directly in the eyes and without wavering, would answer you confidently: “Every student at HCS can boldly face the giant FSAs, because they are still trained by the tested and true methods from the indomitable T. Chers at HCS.”