The 2021-2022 school year is gearing up to be a big year for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, also known as the OSSLT. The OSSLT was canceled for 2021: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OSSLT was not administered last school year and the literacy test requirement was waived for students graduating in 2021” (Toronto District School Board). This means that both Grade 10 and Grade 11 students who were unable to write the test last year will be eligible to write the test this year.
What is the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT)?
The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) is a compulsory standardized test that all secondary students in Ontario will write. The test evaluates English language skills in the areas of reading and writing. These are skills that reflect the Ontario English curriculum for up to and including Grade 9.
Your students are required to pass the OSSLT in order to graduate from high school in Ontario; however, there are several supports in place for students who don’t pass. These supports can help them succeed in meeting the province’s literacy requirements.
Who can take the OSSLT?
The OSSLT is typically administered to students in Grade 10. This is because the OSSLT evaluates skills that are taught in the Ontario English curriculum from K-9. As mentioned, several students in Grade 11 are also eligible to write the OSSLT exam in 2022. This is because of cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The OSSLT can also be written by students who have already completed the exam but were not successful in achieving a passing grade. Your students are granted unlimited attempts at the OSSLT; however, there are other options available for students who are unsuccessful in passing this exam.
What can students do to prepare for the OSSLT?
In theory, students have been preparing for the OSSLT over the course of their entire academic careers. This is because the OSSLT is designed to assess the skills taught in the Ontario English curriculum from primary school up until and including Ninth Grade.
In reality, not all students may be equipped with the necessary skills to be successful. This is especially true of English Language Learners who have not been enrolled in Ontario schools for a portion of their lives. ELL students may require more experience with the Ontario curriculum in order to be successful on the OSSLT. Fortunately, your ELL students can access special accommodations. Click here to learn more about ELL Participation in the OSSLT.
Oftentimes, native English-speaking students also benefit from extra preparation for the OSSLT. Teachers may begin to prepare for the OSSLT well before the exam date in Grade 10; this preparation is especially vigorous in the 9th and 10th Grades. Teachers can “teach to the test” in order to help students prepare to interact with this standardized assessment.
Additionally, students can practice for the OSSLT independently or through the assistance of a tutor or extra-curricular program. Students are encouraged to “[work] on the practice exercises in the OSSLT section on the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) website” or “check out the ‘Getting Ready Guide” (New Youth).
How to practice for the OSSLT
1. Review the skills assessed on the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test
One way to review literacy skills is to look at previous EQAO exams. Several school boards in Ontario have compiled archives of previous OSSLT exams. For example, Northview Heights Secondary School within the TDSB has a webpage dedicated to preparation for the OSSLT.
Typically, focussing on the following areas will help students sharpen the mandated skills required to pass the OSSLT:
- Writing a series of paragraphs
- Expressing and developing an opinion
- Using main points and evidence to support an opinion
- Identifying main points and supporting evidence within a text
- Writing introductions and conclusions
- Identifying features of a news report
- Interpreting narrative texts (ie. news reports, magazine stories, short fiction)
- Interpreting informational texts (ie. opinion pieces, textbooks)
- Reading graphic texts (ie. line graphs, flow charts, diagrams)
- Summarizing ideas and information that are explicitly stated
- Understanding ideas and information that are implicitly stated
- Writing to different audiences
2. Teaching to the Test: Multiple-Choice Questions
The multiple-choice section of the OSSLT is geared towards assessing a number of literacy skills. The questions include everything from identifying the purpose of a text to evaluating the context of a word in order to select an appropriate synonym. There is no way of predicting multiple-choice questions. This means you can’t guarantee your students will be successful with this portion of the test.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies that you can use to practice for the multiple-choice section of the OSSLT. The most straightforward strategy involves using past OSSLT exams as practice. While the OSSLT will never use the same set of multiple-choice questions, it will use the same sentence stems. Practicing on previous OSSLT multiple-choice questions will help students recognize these sentence stems, making them more familiar when it comes time to write their test.
Another strategy incorporates practice for the multiple-choice section into your everyday lessons. When you read a text together as a class, you can try pausing to ask questions similar to those on the OSSLT:
- Request that students explain how they interpret new vocabulary so that they can model this process to their peers.
- Ask students questions that prompt them to summarize the text
- Challenge students to draw inferences from the text
- Move through the text paragraph-by-paragraph to identify the purpose of particular sections or sentences
- Encourage them to evaluate the text as a whole by writing a title or suggesting how they would summarize it in a single sentence
3. Literacy activities and lesson plans to practice for the OSSLT
There are a number of project-based assessments and engaging lessons that you can use to practice for the OSSLT. I typically start with a mandated task and utilize backward design in order to scaffold the skills needed to be successful.
One major assessment in the OSSLT involves reading and writing news reports. Mondays Made Easy’s Reading and Writing News Articles Bundle includes graphic organizers, slideshow lessons, worksheets, and assessments to help students build foundational literacy skills. Students will demonstrate these skills by completing the Community Interview Project, a project-based assessment inspired by the iconic Humans of New York.
Another major assessment in the OSSLT is writing a multi-paragraph essay that expresses an opinion and uses different forms of evidence to support the main idea of each body paragraph. Mondays Made Easy’s Main Point and Evidence Mini-Bundle scaffolds the development of main ideas by identifying key terms and applying them to engaging activities like a Lincoln-Douglas Debate.
In addition to project-based learning, providing ample practice with reading and writing non-fiction texts will support students as they practice for the OSSLT. Mondays Made Easy’s Non-Fiction Writing Bundle scaffolds the skills necessary to summarize an informational text; additionally, students will learn to identify informational texts and differentiate them from other forms of writing in order to guide them towards writing their own informational paragraphs.
Finally, practicing reading comprehension will also sharpen essential literacy skills for Ontario students. The more students engage with narrative and nonfiction texts, the more comfortable they will feel when it comes time to interact with these forms of writing on the OSSLT. Mondays Made Easy’s Reading Comprehension Strategies Bundle focuses on making inferences, making predictions, and summarizing different forms of writing.
What happens if you fail the OSSLT?
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that if a student fails the OSSLT, there are a few options. For one, students can attempt to write the OSSLT again. If your student has an IEP, they are also entitled to the accommodations listed on their file – be sure to review this to ensure that accommodations are met for their second attempt.
Another option is to complete the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course, also known as the OSSLC or OLC4O. This course assesses the same skills as the EQAO exam, meaning that if students pass the course, they meet the requirements to graduate high school.
The Ontario Literacy Course includes mandated tasks that are outlined in the Ontario Curriculum. Students can complete assignments and activities that align with these mandated tasks in order to develop a literacy portfolio.
To see an example of the syllabus of mandated tasks in the Ontario Literacy Course, check out Mondays Made Easy’s Secondary Literacy Mega Bundle. This bundle includes an entire semester’s worth of lesson plans, rubrics, assignments, and activities needed to engage students with the foundational literacy skills included in this course. Additionally, this bundle can support students in preparing for the OSSLT.