With grade 10 literacy testing coming up Oct. 26-27, the local public school board is very serious about seeing better results this year than last.
Especially since this time around, students are required to pass the test in order to graduate.
“Our students can perform better than they did last year, and they will improve,” Superintendent of Education Terry Ellwood said during a information session held last Wednesday night at the FFHS cafeteria, which attracted about 50 parents.
“Last year, the students knew [the test was a trial run]. This year, it’s no joke—you have to pass to graduate,” he stressed. “The ministry wants all schools to be accountable for reading and writing.”
The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test will take place over two two-and-a-half hour sessions, during which time grade 10 students will be tested on their reading and writing skills.
While students are being prepared for the challenge with practice tests at school, the actual test should reflect what the students have been learning throughout their previous years of education.
If a student misses one day of the testing, they must retake it in the spring or next school year. The same applies if they fail one or both parts of it.
Given the duration and possible stress involved with this test, Fort High principal Ian Simpson noted students not only will be ensured a quiet test area without distractions, but break periods with refreshments.
Ellwood said preparing for the test is a team effort.
“We’re all partners in this. But the most important partners are the students,” he remarked. “I think the whole board is taking it seriously. Not just in grade 10, but from kindergarten on up.”
“This not an English test,” echoed Fort High teacher Heather Campbell, who also serves as chair of the FFHS secondary literacy committee. “Every teacher is responsible for this no matter what subject they’re teaching.”
Teacher Val Martindale received training to mark the standardized tests last year, and was involved with the marking. She noted that while the tests are strictly a matter of “pass” or “fail,” the marking process is fair.
“I have to tell you, the marker will find anything to make it pass. If I get a paper I’m not sure about, I’ll pass it on [to another marker],” she said.
“Every opportunity is given for them to pass,” she stressed.
Martindale said the problem with last year’s poor performance by some students was easily explained—they just didn’t take it seriously. “The problem was students weren’t following the rules. For instance, they were using pencils, not pens,” she noted.
Simpson said that while a greater focus on the testing should pay off this year, maintaining that focus would be key.
“I think you can see we haven’t taken the same route we did last year. We will improve,” he noted. “I think they’re ready. I think they’re going to do better.
“But after the test is taken, the committee will not relax. After it’s done, we’ll look on to next year to the grade nines,” added Simpson.
One parent of a grade 10 student, who asked to remain unnamed, noted the presentation definitely was worthwhile. “The letters they sent home had a sense of urgency so I decided to come out,” she said.
“It was informative. I was pleased with the team they put together. I got the impression they were very serious about it,” she added.
The woman also said she was confident the school is doing a good job preparing the students.
“[My daughter’s] not concerned about the testing at all. And judging from what she’s said, a lot of the kids aren’t really concerned about it,” she said.
Back in the spring, the Education Quality and Accountability Office reported that 41 percent of grade 10 students in this district failed either one or both portions of the test, which was written last October.
While 43 percent of the students passed the test (i.e., both portions), 22 percent failed both the reading and writing parts. Some 15 percent failed only writing while another four percent failed just reading.
The remaining 16 percent of students were absent for one or both days of the tests, which are designed to gauge students’ grasps on reading and writing in the new curriculum.
The Ministry of Education announced just days before last year’s test that it would only be a practice run, and some believe that may have affected students’ scores.