In MGCI’s latest Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) scores, 71% of fully participating, first time students passed the test. This might not sound that bad, but when compared to 81% or 82%, the scores of the board and province respectively, it seems bleak. There are several initiatives taking place at Garneau to combat this, the latest being cross-curricular assignments.

Students are supposed to receive one news report and one opinion paragraph every month in each class. At the teacher’s discretion, these assignments may be factored into a student’s communication grade. Students who choose not to complete these assignments, or complete them poorly, will be placed on a referral list and recommended to take remedial courses. While the administration has encouraged teachers to incorporate these assignments with their curriculum, it is ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to do so.

In the past, Garneau has offered after-school literacy classes and literacy development courses, but still our OSSLT scores are their lowest in the past five years. There is a bigger problem here than poor OSSLT scores.

This isn’t a problem that begins in Grade 10 with students failing the OSSLT. It starts earlier in elementary schools when students are transferred into the next grade without acquiring the necessary knowledge or skills they need to succeed. They reach high school with poor habits and are unprepared for what comes next.

In 2013, 71% of the students at MGCI who wrote the OSSLT indicated that they learned English as a second language. In addition to that, only 28% said that they spoke only or mostly English at home. The reality is, the only opportunity many Garneau students have to practice these skills is at school. Combine this with staff who don’t fully incorporate these practices into their teachings and our literacy scores seem less surprising.

Several strategies have been implemented at MGCI in an attempt to combat low literacy scores. One year, after-school literacy classes were offered as half credits. And as recently as last semester, administration attempted to implement more literacy exercises for Grade 9s and 10s, only to find that many classes weren’t completing them. The effectiveness of the cross-curricular assignments currently being assigned across all grades and courses has yet to be seen. However, several questions about its implementation come to mind immediately. As important as it is to practice and develop literacy skills, is this current solution equitable? Should all students across the board receive the same treatment regardless of their status with respect to the literacy exam? In my classes with students who have passed both the literacy exam and Grade 12 English, cross-curricular assignments are not being taken seriously. This strategy is not only wasting time for students who have already proven their ability by passing the OSSLT, but also the teachers of these students.

However, my perspective as an individual does not consider this issue as a whole. MGCI is a school with many students who learned English as second language and who don’t speak English regularly at home. As important as practice is, many of these students may not even possess the necessary skills to start practicing.  Having math, science, and business teachers give out these assignments and mark according to template isn’t going to create the impact that we need. In order to overcome this literacy issue, MGCI has to seriously examine itself. We have to analyze our students’ abilities, our teachers’ methods, and the current curriculum. These topics will be considered in greater depth on The Reckoner’s website in two weeks’ time.