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On paper, the news isn’t very good.

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Grade 10 students in the Rainy River District School Board had the highest failure rate (41 percent) in Northwestern Ontario on the provincial literacy test taken last fall. And there’s word those at Fort Frances High School fared even worse than that compared to their counterparts in Rainy River and Atikokan.

Of course, the finger-pointing already has started. Some are blaming the teachers; others the provincial government for bungling the introduction of the so-called “new curriculum” at the start of the 1999-2000 school year.

Still others are saying students may have blown the test on purpose after being told passing it isn’t a graduation requirement for this year’s crop of 10th graders (but it will be starting in 2001-02).

No doubt there’s a grain of truth in all these excuses. But the disturbing fact remains that schools in other boards across the province—public and Catholic—faced these very same factors yet did considerably better (although the average provincial failure rate of 29 percent certainly is nothing to boast about).

So what do the numbers mean? Is this the first concrete example, as many people have suspected all along, that we’ve been churning out illiterate students for all these years under the “old” curriculum? Is this proof our board—for whatever reason—is lagging far behind others across Ontario?

Will the “new” curriculum rectify the problem, or are other solutions needed?

Time will tell. Fortunately, the Rainy River District School Board isn’t going to sit on its hands in the interim. Education Director Warren Hoshizaki was adamant this week that the board will respond quickly, and the board will improve its results.

While we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact more students here passed both the reading and writing portions of the standardized literacy test (43 percent) than failed it, our failure rate was dismal. And unacceptable.

The board obviously feels the same way, as no doubt do our teachers. That’s good, because getting to the root of the problem—and solving it—will require a co-operative effort among all parties involved.

And there’s absolutely no time to waste.

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