PARRY SOUND – Literacy among Parry Sound’s teens is on the downward spiral.
That’s a reality Parry Sound and the Near North District School Board want to turn around.
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) released results of this spring’s standardized provincial Grade 10 literacy tests last week.
At the provincial, board and local school levels, the number of students passing the literacy test on their first try is down this year. At the provincial level, 82 per cent passed, down from 83 per cent in 2011 and the five-year high of 85 per cent in 2009. Within the Near North, 73 per cent of students passed the exam, a drop from 75 per cent in 2011 and the high of 82 per cent in 2010.
At the local high school, the success rate this year dropped to 71 per cent from 75 per cent in 2011 and 80 per cent in 2010.
The province created the EQAO in 2006.
“The results were just released on Wednesday,” said Near North superintendent Terry Blair. “Currently, as a board, we’re reviewing our board results as well as the individual school results, but at the same time, principals with their admin teams and team leaders, and with…. (teachers) across the curriculum are all looking at the results either at the board or school level, really trying to narrow and focus in what the learning gaps are with these students.”
The local school system plans to start working with students as early as Grade 8 to prepare them for the Grade 10 literacy test.
Both Blair and Parry Sound High School principal Andy Gagne talked about preparing students for the test starting at a younger grade level.
“We’re going to try to replicate some of our success with numeracy, as you know we’ve been on a three year increase with numeracy,” said Gagne.
Before this year, the high school would give mock literacy tests to students in Grade 9, but the intent now is to go back even further, to Grade 8.
Along with this, the school plans to offer what Gagne called a “student success period” to give students extra help with literacy skills.
The school board is also looking at how to support students who’ll retake the test next year.
“The good news with our literacy is the kids who were trying for the second time around, we’ve gone from 33 to 43 per cent, we’ve gone up, so we’ve got considerable more success with kids who are trying for the second time,” said Gagne.
The province has tested Grade 10 students’ literacy competency for several years now and while there have been changes, the format of the test is now standardized, said Blair.
Despite that, the number of students failing on the first attempt is increasing.
“Maybe there’s been a lot of focus on numeracy?” said Gagne. “Maybe (it’s) that our cohort changes from year to year? Those are good questions. If we had that answer we’d have the silver ball, but I think reaching back and working with our feeder schools makes a difference – it did with math, and I think we can do that with literacy, I’m hoping.”
When asked about the dropping success rate years after the test was introduced, Blair said the board would like to know more about not just the quantitative, but the qualitative aspect of the test, such as “do they read at home, do they write, other than at school and texting.”
The EQAO report highlighted that, provincially, those taking applied English accounted for more than half of the students who didn’t pass this year. In the report, the EQAO points out there’s a pattern of applied students not making the grade and recommended a review of the course’s “effectiveness.”
With that in mind, Blair said the Near North is looking at what, “we can do to further provide support for all of these literacy skills.”
Locally, Gagne talked about offering more assistance to students to meet their learning style.
“With the applied level, I wonder if they have the same level of engagement as the academic kids, I don’t know. One thing we do know, kids at the applied level are very capable, but they don’t work as independently as kids at the academic level do. So, maybe there’s something more that we need to do as the school, as teachers, to work with those kids – more individualized programs, smaller grouping of those kids. Academic kids often figure out how to survive on their own even if we don’t have it bang on, but the applied level kids need a little more assistance. That doesn’t mean they’re not as capable, they just don’t work as well independently.”
A further breakdown of the literacy test results from the high school shows that of the 179 students eligible to write the test for the first time this year, six students were absent and 16 deferred the examination.
Of those who wrote the test, 54 per cent were students taking academic English, 38 per cent were in applied, six percent in locally developed and two per cent in other categories. Of those who wrote the test, 76 per cent of girls passed compared to 67 per cent of boys.