Grade 10 literacy scores improve

Students in the Rainy River District continue to improve on their scores on the provincial Grade 10 literacy test.
Of the 284 fully-participating students who were eligible to write the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) for the first time in October 2004, 226 (or 80 percent), met or exceeded the requirements.
That’s a two percent increase from the 78 percent who were successful in writing the test in October 2003. In October 2002, only 70 percent successfully completed the exam, and 76 percent were successful in February 2002.
“It’s encouraging,” said Ian Simpson, assistant superintendent of education for the Rainy River District School Board.
“We’ve reached that 80 percent and now we want to go a little bit higher,” he added.
District results are still slightly behind the provincial average, where 82 percent of students met or exceeded the requirements for the test.
“We’re usually a little bit above the provincial average,” Simpson noted.
The provincial success rate for 2003 was 77 percent, compared to 78 percent for students in the RRDSB.
Fort Frances High School had a 77 percent success rate for fully-participating, first-time eligible students. Rainy River High School had an 82 percent success rate, while Atikokan High School had an 85 percent success rate.
At Fort High, 191 students wrote the OSSLT, while 38 wrote the test in Rainy River and 55 wrote it in Atikokan.
Of the 75 fully-participating students across the district who were eligible to take the test in previous years, 42 students or 56 percent were successful. This is six percent behind the provincial average of 62 percent.
Among first-time eligible students, girls are performing slightly better than boys, with 82 percent of fully-participating females meeting or exceeding the requirements, compared to 78 percent of males.
Provincially, the gender gap is even wider, with 86 percent of females meeting or exceeding the requirements compared to 79 percent of males.
Across the district, 10 percent of students were deferred, compared to four percent province-wide.
“We defer kids we don’t think are in a state of readiness to write the tests,” Simpson explained. “We fell they are capable of succeeding, but they need a little more time to be ready.”
That decision is made in consultation with classroom teachers and special education teachers. While the deferral rate is more than twice the provincial rate this year, Simpson noted in past years the board’s deferral rate has been very close to the provincial one.
Next year’s OSSLT will be written after the Christmas break, rather than in October, giving schools and students more time to prepare.
“Each year, each school has a literacy plan for preparing students for the OSSLT,” he said, adding there is also a board-wide plan. Each year after the results are released, teachers, administration, and board members review the results and make amendments to the literacy plan accordingly.
“We’ll review it when we come back in the fall,” Simpson said. “We’ve had a very successful plan in place for the past three or four years.”
One of the new strategies the board tried this year was inviting elementary school teachers to help mark practice tests written by secondary school students to prepare them for the OSSLT.
Marking the practice tests helped the elementary teachers understand what their students would be writing in upcoming years and how to help them prepare for it.
“Now the elementary teachers know what they’re preparing their kids for,” Simpson noted. “We’ve done a lot of good work in bridging the gap between elementary and secondary schools.”
While the RRDSB’s results compare favourably to other boards in Northwestern Ontario and across the province, he noted they are not interested in good results for the sake of comparison.
“Student success is what we’re interested in and what we’re striving for,” he emphasized. “We are going to work hard next year to be at the provincial average or above it.”
Dryden High School’s results were highlighted in a press release from the Education Quality and Accountability Office. The school’s success rate has risen from 70 percent in February 2002 to 82 percent in 2004.
“We’ve collectively implemented a number of common literacy initiatives across all five secondary schools [in our board],” explained Ellen Bloomfield, a later literacy teacher in Dryden.
“In addition, here at Dryden High School, we’ve developed school-based initiatives to meet our own specialized needs,” she noted.
The purpose of the OSSLT is to ensure students have acquired the reading and writing skills that apply to the provincial curriculum up to the end of Grade 9. All students who are working towards a high school diploma are required to write the test in Grade 10.