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Reading into students' results

By Nicki Cruickshank, Barrie Examiner

Literacy testing? No sweat.

That's the kind of confidence staff at St. Peter's Secondary School want students to exude when faced with Grade 10 literacy testing each year.

"It's a focus of ours to help them feel prepared for the test," said Brad Shoreman, one of two vice-principals at the school, noting that the OSSLT isn't meant to set students up for failure. "The test is just another part of the school year, and it's meant to test the literacy skills students should have up to this point."

The Barrie Catholic high school achieved good marks from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), which released results of the 2008-09 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, yesterday.

The school's results showed 84 per cent of all participating students passed the test, which is the highest percentage the school has seen in five years.

That number is just above the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board's overall 83 per cent average, and slightly lower that the provincial overall average of 85 per cent.

"With these results, we have proof that our efforts in helping our students (with literacy) have been successful," Shoreman said.

"It's really rewarding for us. We're always hoping that we're doing the right things to help our students," said Annalisa Varano, who is also a vice-principal at St. Peter's.

The school was one of six Ontario high schools singled out by EQAO for its success at raising students' literacy skills, and creating innovative approaches meet students' needs.

The school's literacy committee is working on expanding the scope of literacy to include all subjects, not just in English and special-education programs.

"We started holding literacy Wednesdays so teachers and students work on activities each week to strengthen literacy skills," Varano said. "The resource books are for the Don't Panic program and activities deal with literacy in a variety of subjects. So, by the time the test comes around, the resources have really prepared them."

It's an idea Michele Litster welcomes in her classroom.

"Passing the literacy test becomes a preoccupation for students and teachers, and we know not passing the test creates a barrier for graduation," said Litster, a Grade 10 English teacher and member of the literacy committee. "That's why teachers are committed to these activities, even if it means cutting into teaching the regular curriculum."

Litster sees one area of test preparations that must be improved.

"The piece we need to working on is preparing their test skills," she said. "That means taking time to help students understand how to answer questions on the test successfully."

Shoreman said another future focus is improving literacy in lower grade levels.

"We need to align what we do here with elementary students entering high school and make teaching them our way a smooth transition," he said. "We also want to work with Grade 9 teachers and get them on the same page as Grade 10 teachers."

ncruickshank @ thebarrieexaminer.com



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