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School board taking aim at literacy testing

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Results of a provincial literacy test released last week showed the Rainy River District School Board had the highest failure rate in Northwestern Ontario.

But the board has resolved to change that.

“We will improve. There’s no question about it,” Education Director Warren Hoshizaki pledged Tuesday.

“We’re going to respond quickly. Even now, we’re looking at the board and school results with principals,” he noted. “We’re looking at specific areas and analyzing them to pinpoint any weaknesses.”

Some ideas already being looked at include an increased focus on literacy for students in grades seven-nine by stepping up remedial help and summer school programs, Hoshizaki noted.

The Education Quality and Accountability Office reported 41 percent of grade 10 students in the district failed either one or both portions of the test, which was written across the province back in 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 one or both days.

The tests, designed to gauge students’ grasps on reading and writing in the new curriculum, originally were to be a requirement for them to graduate. But the Ministry of Education announced just days before the test date this year’s exam would only be a practice run.

“I think we’re getting an inaccurate picture of this. We were required to tell the students beforehand that the tests didn’t count,” noted Fort High teacher Val Martindale, who was among those specially-trained to administer and mark the tests.

“At the time, we didn’t think much of it. We said, ‘Let’s go through with this as though it did count and see how we do,’” she added.

“From marking them, I would say there was a fair number of kids who didn’t try, or simply didn’t complete the testing. And this resulted is them being counted as ‘failed.’”

Hoshizaki agreed but remained firm on the board’s stance. “I still think the way the ministry went about that wasn’t quite right. It caused problems.

“But we’re not in a position to make excuses. We’re going to respond quickly,” he stressed.

Ed Ojala, president of the local Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, could not be reached for comment this week.

Meanwhile, other regional boards didn’t fare much better. The following list is the percentage of students who failed either one of both portions of the test:

•Superior-Greenstone District School Board (39);

•Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board (34.5);

•Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (33); and

•Lakehead District School Board (33).

As these boards are part of the “Literacy for Higher Achievement” initiative along with one here, Hoshizaki noted they will be working together when looking at solutions.

“We’re also going to look at places where results were very good. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it—we will improve.”

According to the EQAO Web site, provincial results show 29 percent of students failed either one or both of the reading and writing segments of the standardized two-day test.

Only 61 percent of the students passed both portions. The remaining 10 percent either were deferred from the test or were absent for one or both days.

Eleven percent failed the writing portion but passed the reading one while five percent passed writing but failed reading.

A passing grade for the test requires a student to pass both the reading and writing portions.

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