Literacy test a ‘political tool’

Dear editor,
The grade 10 literacy test has arrived and it is imperative that students, parents, and teachers brace themselves for this historic event.
This will be the first time in the history of Ontario that a high-stakes standardized test is used to deprive some of our children of a high school graduation diploma.
As the District 5B president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, and as a teacher, I have many concerns regarding the nature and intent of this high-stakes standardized literacy test, and I believe it is important all educational stakeholders understand its repercussions on our students and our educational system.
Let me be very clear—the grade 10 literacy test has nothing to do with improving literacy. What this test will do is rank boards, rank schools, rank students, rank according to gender, publicize failure, make media headlines, allow several groups to either take credit for improvement or to assign blame for failures, exaggerate a crisis, manipulate funding, exempt private schools, and deny some students the opportunity to receive a high school diploma—at a cost of $15 million per year.
There is fear board funding may be tied to the test results. The result of this test will be pressure on teachers to neglect curriculum and only focus on one aspect of a student’s education.
The Ontario government must guarantee adequate funding for remedial support regardless of results. There must be money for textbooks, resources, and remedial help. How will a board be able to help the most needy students if it doesn’t have the funds to provide the services?
That would be like saying if you cannot provide for your family, we are going to take away your job.
Testing is appropriate if used as a diagnostic tool to identify problem areas that could be improved upon. Currently, assessment and evaluation is performed by teachers on an ongoing basis to allow for growth. Learning occurs when a variety of assessment tools are used, feedback occurs, and attention is given to weak skills.
To deny a 15-year-old of a diploma because of a single test is unacceptable.
We will see again this year that this test is a political tool which allows for no real feedback and thus no real learning can occur. Last year, students and parents who inquired about individual scores or areas of weakness were given no direction or answers or feedback. Students only received a number for a pass or fail.
How can students improve when they do not know where they made mistakes?
Furthermore, I was extremely disappointed when the government deliberately leaked the results of the first test to the media. This political intervention undermined the “intent” of the tests and did not give the administrators of the test (EQAO) an opportunity to explain the meaning and results to the public.
The results of this test should subscribe to the most strict confidentiality guidelines but at this moment, no assurance has been given by the government that the reporting of the results for political spin will not occur again.
I believe this upcoming grade 10 literacy test is seriously flawed but as our students are mandated to write, I hope they are all successful. I want to say good luck to all the students who are being forced to endure this extremely high-stakes standardized test.
To the parents, I want to say to encourage your child to do his/her best, and for you to be critical of the questions your child must answer, be critical of how the test is reported and used, and be critical of the commitment the government makes to provide remedial help to your child if he/she is denied a high school graduation diploma.
On behalf of the District 5B OSSTF teachers, we want parents to know we are committed to our classrooms and our students.
We will do everything in our power to safeguard your child’s learning opportunities but we will need your help to make the government accountable for the unfortunate and unwarranted anxiety the grade 10 literacy test is placing on your child.
Ed Ojala, President,
OSSTF District 5B

Editor’s note: This letter was submitted to the Times before news broke Monday that this year’s grade 10 literacy test, scheduled for yesterday and today, has been postponed due to a “security breach.”
Another test is to be scheduled at a later date.