Students score high marks on literacy test

The Rainy River District School Board went from the worst ranking in the province to above average when results from the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test were announced at Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting here.
Of those students who wrote the Grade 10 literacy test at the board’s three high schools last February, 76 percent passed both the reading and writing components, which is one percent better than the provincial average.
The achievement marked a 25 percent increase in student performance over results from the trial test in 2000 when only 51 percent of the students passed.
This past year also was the first that passing the literacy test was a requirement for graduation.
“We were hoping for a great increase. We were the lowest board in the province for the trial administration,” secondary curriculum co-ordinator Heather Campbell said after the board meeting.
The most dramatic improvement was found in the writing component of the test, where local students performed 31 percent better than last year.
Campbell said this wasn’t surprising since there was an intense focus on writing prior to the two-day test.
“I think because every school literacy team focused on writing prior to the test. [They] did writing right across the curriculum all the way up to the test,” she noted.
“The amount of effort put forth by parents and staff and students. The achievement really reflects the dedication and recognition of the importance of literacy,” she added.
Education Director Warren Hoshizaki attributed the success to the result of planning and strategies recommended by literacy teams at each of the schools.
Campbell reminded the public the literacy test is not intended as a means to rank school boards and their performance but to target students who may need assistance in reading and writing before they graduate and enter the workforce.
“I’m very pleased . . . I thought there would be an increase but the amount of the increase, I have to admit, is a little higher than I thought it might be,” board chair Gord McBride said after the meeting.
At Fort Frances High School, 79 percent of students who wrote the test passed both the reading and writing components, which marked a 24 percent increase in the school’s performance.
Roughly four percent of those who wrote it passed just the reading component, 12 percent passed just writing portion, and six percent did not pass either one.
The school had 36 students defer from writing the test for various reasons.
“I’m very, very pleased with the huge improvement,” Fort High principal Ian Simpson said. “I would like to see it up over 80 percent.”
Simpson credited the work of the school’s literacy team, dedicated staff, and hard work of students for the dramatic improvement.
The fact the test was delayed to February after the answers were posted on a Web site prior to the initial October exam date didn’t seem to inflate student performance in Simpson’s opinion.
“No I think they would have done better it they had written it back in October,” he remarked.
Just before students were to write the first test, the school had completed an intense preparation program, including practice exams, test questions, and remedial classes after school for at-risk students.
They even had a school assembly to get students pumped for the exam the day before writing it so when the test was deferred, Simpson said it was hard to get students motivated again.
“It’s hard to get the momentum rolling again after it was cancelled,” he admitted.
Another concern with the delayed test was that fewer students wrote it.
“We had an increased number of deferrals simply because students had prior commitments, vacations, hockey tournaments came up, and the investment by parents,” Campbell noted.
“The decision came down to going to the hockey tournament as opposed to writing the test.”
Fort High—like all the board’s high schools—already is working to prepare for the upcoming Grade 10 literacy test.
“We will be modelling proof-reading strategies, and having examples of texts to read in preparation,” Campbell said.
Literacy remedial class after school and literacy booklets also will be available to help those who failed it so they can prepare again for the test.
Campbell warned that because results were released so late, it is difficult to address problem areas in time for the next literacy test, which is slated for the mornings of Oct. 23-24.
A meeting about the upcoming literacy test for parents and guardians of Grade 10 students at Fort High will be held Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. in the cafeteria.