In this article we will explore the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test and the challenges that it may pose for certain students. The test is an integral part of the schooling experience for students in the Ontario province and without a passing grade, students are not eligible for a diploma and are unable to graduate.
Considering how important this exam is in a secondary school, the difficulties faced by each student taking the OSSLT are an important consideration. It is important for us to understand the reason why certain students may be faced with more challenges.
By extension of the importance of both the OSSLT and identifying points that students may struggle with, we must consider how the exam may penalize certain groups of students. We must also ask ourselves what we are doing, as well as what we can do in order to minimize, and eventually close, the educational gap.
What is the OSSLT?
The OSSLT (or the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test) is a mandatory component to complete before a student can graduate with a diploma. As Ontario is officially a bilingual province the test can be taken in either English or in French.
The test itself is designed to ensure that students have a reading and writing skill level sufficient to continue with further curriculum. The test was created with native speakers (of either French or English) in mind. The wider majority of students who are not native speakers in either of these languages choose to take the test in English.
The test is completed in two different parts each of 2.5 hours. This is broken down into the reading component and the writing component and aims to test the following skills:
- Direct understanding of explicitly stated information
- Understanding of implicitly stated information
- Connecting stated information with personally held information
- Develop a main idea and the supporting information
- Organizing and linking information & ideas coherently
- Using grammar correctly to support clear communication
Efforts have been made in the past to push the test online, which were met with criticism. It is only in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic that the online resources have become a truly viable option.
What are the Challenges Faced by the OSSLT?
Like any standardized test, the OSSLT faces challenges and criticisms. Standardized testing as a whole has faced global criticism. It was brought about with the idea to give each student a level playing field but as we know today that simply isn’t true.
Children with slightly different needs and abilities may under-perform because the nature of the test does not agree with their learning style. Provisions have been made in the test for students who have dyslexia and other potential difficulties, but it does not close the gap.
Differences in socio-economic backgrounds of students and the uncertainty of the test environment for each student aggravates the existing issues of standardized testing. This is before the consideration of ESL and ELD students.
ESL & ELD Students
The biggest and most clearly documented issue that befalls the OSSLT is for students whose first language is not either French or English. Around 23% of students in the Ontario Province do not have English or French as a first language. These students are at a much higher risk of failing the OSSLT.
Unfortunately the statistics show that over the past five years the support programs available for ESL and ELD students have lowered by as much as 30%. This figure can be accounted for by budget cuts and a lack of resources available to both school and student.
Examination of previous results of ESL students has shown consistency in ESL/ELD scores. This consistency tracks lower scores across very specific areas of the test, including the indirect understanding of skills, vocabulary, and certain writing tasks.
From their test scores alone, ESL/ELD students could be identified. This clearly shows that there are sections that are particularly difficult for ESL and ELD students that should be addressed.
How Has OSSLT Worked to Combat This?
There are several measures taken in order to minimize the gap. Some of these don’t just apply to ESL/ELD students, but to students with other needs as well. Things like text to speech options, the ability to zoom in and out on the page. The inclusion of a line reader and options for high contrast all stand out as inclusionary for students who may have learning or reading difficulties, particularly dyslexia.
For students who suffer from test anxiety, there are exercises available designed to minimize anxiety. There are also suggestions of different test taking strategies that students can try and see if they fit.
Practice tests are available, as is the option to resit with unlimited tries. But outside of LitGuide, there are no other curriculum based studying tools available.
But What about ESL/ELD Students?
ESL and ELD students are granted all of the above, as well as periodic, extended breaks and the option to postpone their test until they feel more prepared. While in an ideal world there may be more allowances and opportunities gifted to the students, it can be difficult to implement them region-wide.
This, of course, stems back to the first point of the article: Standardized testing is intended to offer students a level playing field. Unfortunately, in the case of ESL and ELD students, leveling the playing field is an extremely individualistic feat.
It’s true and fair to say that each child’s educational needs are very different. The additional variable of skill set in a second language is extremely difficult to both quantify and implement region-wide.
That is why, in order to offer each student a fair chance we must alter the way that we teach and study. LitGuide App has created a platform that is personalizable to each student’s needs and offers support where it is needed. Download the LitGuide App now and start learning.