Ontario secondary school literacy test

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A Resource Booklet for



Literacy/Student Success Teams




Bill Hogarth

Director of Education

Bill Crothers

Chair of the Board

EQAO 007


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from The York Region District School Board.
For any inserted materials, copyright has been extended to The York Region District School Board only. Individual boards must seek direct copyright approval for all indicated items requiring such permission.

Ontario Secondary School

Literacy Test
A Resource Booklet for Administrators and

Literacy/Student Success Teams


The following people assisted in the preparation of this resource:

Aline Daniel, Teacher, Richmond Green Secondary School

Laura Leesti, Curriculum Consultant, York Region District School Board

Theresa Meikle, Curriculum Consultant, York Region District School Board

Candice Mott, Curriculum Consultant, York Region District School Board

Gail Sajo, Teacher, Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School

Tamar Stein, Curriculum Consultant, York Region District School Board

Cathy Costello, Retired, York Region District School Board

Layout and Format
Donnalee McGill, Curriculum and Instructional Services,

York Region District School Board

Thanks also to Aurora High School, Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School, King City Secondary School, Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School and Richmond Green Secondary School for contributing samples and suggestions.

This resource is part of a 3-document series:

  1. YRDSB: Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test: A Planning and Operational Resource for Administrators and Literacy/Student Success Teams…(EQAO 007)

  2. YRDSB: Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test: Tips and Practice Tasks for Students…(EQAO 008)

  3. YRDSB: Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test: Tips and Practice Tasks for Students - Teacher’s Guide…(EQAO 009)

Additional copies of this resource, or any part of it, may be ordered on a cost-recovery basis, through the principal, on Outlook at media.library.resources@yrdsb.edu.on.ca.

When ordering, please include a budget number, quantity and refer to Order Number(s) required (EQAO___).

This resource was prepared using materials developed by administrators, consultants, and teachers in the York Region District School Board, as well as bulletins and support materials available on the Education Quality and Accountability web site. The purpose of this binder is to support – throughout all of the secondary schools in the board – consistent whole school approaches to the OSS Literacy Test as well as opportunities for teachers, students, and parents to participate in preparing for the test tasks. The methods and activities in this resource are highly recommended, but not mandatory.
This resource recommends embedding literacy instruction in all subject areas rather than a “teach to the test” approach. The tasks that students must know and be able to do for the test are representative of lifelong literacy skills that will support them throughout their school career and their working life beyond school. However, familiarity with the test tasks is crucial for the comfort and achievement of students taking the OSS Literacy Test. Activities in the resource support students in understanding the nature of the test, following instructions, and understanding test vocabulary. The EQAO Support Materials provide further tips for students about reading specific types of texts (literary, informational, and graphical), and about composing specific forms of writing. The pedagogical strategies recommended represent effective practices that will support the learning of all students in the classroom.
Additional copies of this resource or any part of it may be ordered in quantity through Document Distribution.

Schools may wish to order Tips and Practice Tasks for Students Tips and Practice Tasks for Students – Teacher’s Guide quantity for all of their teachers and their Grade 9 and 10 students.


Administrator and Literacy/Student Success Team Support Materials

  • suggestions for fostering a whole school cross-curricular approach

  • sample whole school preparation calendars

  • cross-curricular approaches to reading and writing tasks

  • classroom practices to support literacy

  • inventories of subject area literacy tasks

  • highlights and background material from EQAO

  • Parent Support Materials including:

    • handouts for parents

    • sample newsletters/communications with parents

YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students

12 Lessons including:

  • reading comprehension strategies

  • writing templates

  • practice tasks with subject area reading passages

  • practice tasks and templates for writing

  • general information about the OSS Literacy Test

  • test-taking tips

  • EQAO support materials, rubrics and exemplars

YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students – Teacher’s Guide

12 Lessons including:

  • assessment for learning tools

  • instructional approaches

  • answer keys

  • additional literacy support materials, and

Fostering a Whole School Approach to

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test

A whole school approach is most beneficial to students taking the OSSLT. School staffs need to have a good understanding of the purpose of the test and the implications for students who are unsuccessful on the test. The test tasks are cross-curricular in nature and the literacy skills being assessed on the test are critical to student success in all program areas. All teachers are responsible for supporting students in their literacy development and the profile of the literate graduate points to the fundamental importance of the development of literacy skills in all students.

School administrators and staffs must take into consideration:

  • Students can only reach those targets that they attempt to reach. Participation in the test by as many first-time, eligible students possible will provide schools with a clear picture of the skills some students may require for a successful future effort. (Note: Deferrals should only be considered in accordance with the EQAO policy.)

  • Deferrals should generally be limited to those students who clearly do not have the English language skills to participate meaningfully and successfully in the test tasks.

  • Those students who are deferred must be tracked and supported towards their first attempt on the test and subsequent opportunities to either take the test or enroll in the OSSLC.

  • Students cannot take the OSSLC course until they have had at least one failed attempt at the test. By delaying the opportunity for students to attempt the test, schools limit students’ opportunities to complete the literacy requirement successfully.

  • Students whose program indicates that they are not aiming for an OSS Diploma (rather, an OSS Certificate), may be exempted from the test.

A whole-school approach to literacy invites all program areas to commit to explicit teaching of the reading skills and writing tasks that are required not only for the OSS Literacy Test, but for continued success in school and work settings. In the “Information Age” 85% of jobs require high level reading skills and the ability to express information, ideas, and recommendations or opinions in concise, clear written forms.

Employees with higher literacy skills earn more income, are less likely to be unemployed, experience shorter periods of unemployment, are more likely to find full-time work, and are more likely to receive further training.

"The Economic Benefits of Improving Literacy Skills in the Workplace," 1997

Conference Board of Canada  

Reading Skills

The reading skills assessed on the OSSLT are cross-curricular in nature. All program areas require students to:

  • find explicitly (directly) stated information in text;

  • understand implicit (indirectly stated) information and ideas;

  • make connections between personal experiences and knowledge to information and ideas in a text;

  • infer ideas or draw conclusions from text (either from figurative language/pictorial symbols, or through synthesis of information from many parts of the text);

  • determine the meaning and effect of vocabulary – use knowledge of context to understand familiar, unfamiliar, technical and imaginative uses of language;

  • use syntax – use grammatical structures and punctuation to support understanding and interpretation of text ;

  • use organization – use knowledge of overall structure and organizational elements to understand meaning and purpose;

  • read graphic features – use knowledge of visual features (illustrations, diagrams, charts) to understand meaning and purpose;

  • bring prior knowledge to text to make sense of it; and

  • make predictions based on text organization and structure.

Writing Skills

The writing tasks are also cross-curricular in nature. Many or all program areas require students to:

  • write reports;

  • summarize information from text, often in response to questions or research topics;

  • organize information into paragraphs, again assembling points from textbooks or articles;

  • write a series of paragraphs supporting an opinion.

The individual classroom teacher ... is the critical contact through whom literacy can happen. By teaching the students the essential skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking, the teacher enables the students to make contact with someone else or something else and experience personal development through the adventure ... The task is too big and too important to be left with any teacher or a small group of teachers to accomplish alone.

Contacts: Teaching Communication Across the Curriculum.
Costello, Palmer, and Smitheram, (p. 15)


The best way to support students towards successful completion of the OSSLT is to provide practice of the skills and tasks featured on the test across time and program areas, so that students experience the effect of resonance. Resonance occurs when students begin to notice a recurring emphasis on the same skills and types of tasks from course to course.
Research clearly shows that “spaced” practice – over time and various situations – is more effective in preparing students than “massed” practice.

  • While a February focus to have students practice the tasks from the EQAO Support Materials is helpful in making students test-wise prior to the March test date, this approach is not sufficient to develop students’ literacy skills or to give them adequate familiarity with the skills and tasks.

  • Because of the time constraints of the test-taking situation, students must be able to instantly identify what is required when they see the terms “news report” or “series of paragraphs”. To develop this level of familiarity and comfort with tasks, students must have had opportunities to practise them again and again over a period of months.

  • It is also important to give students the opportunity to practise with “on-demand” reading and writing activities with fresh tasks or topics and time constraints.


  • Students should have multiple opportunities to practise the skills and tasks required on the test. This can be done in all program areas throughout the Grade 9 year.

  • All program areas can contribute to this preparation by creating formative assessments that mirror the tasks on the test. For example,

  • History teachers have students create a “news report” based on a historical event;

  • Science teachers have students read a “real life narrative” (a scientist’s author’s biography) and answer a series of multiple choice questions;

  • English teachers assess reading comprehension through a literary sight passage. Students practise answering multiple choice questions which require a variety of reading skills: locating explicit information, making an inference, connecting to prior knowledge, etc.

  • All program areas identify and provide explicit instruction in subject-specific literacy skills throughout the year.

  • All program areas commit to teaching a reading and writing strategy from Think Literacy or the Subject-Specific Think Literacy documents.
  • Schools purchase the YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students and the YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students – Teacher’s Guide and distribute one to each student in Grade 9. This resource can be used in all program areas and can also serve as the focus for a whole school preparation activity.

  • Grade 9 students identified at-risk in literacy should be encouraged to take the After-School literacy course which will support them in all areas of literacy development.

  • Parents should be encouraged to support the literacy development of their Grade 9 students through a variety of methods including: monthly literacy tips in newsletters, assemblies, involvement in school activities. (See the Parents As Partners handouts, included in this resource for additional suggestions.

  • All program areas can assist students in the development of test taking skills such as:

  • reading instructions and questions carefully;

  • using the writing process effectively;

  • answering multiple-choice questions; and

  • managing test time effectively.

If students have had a strong introduction to the OSSLT in Grade 9 they are already well on their way to being successful on the test; however, since the test is written in the spring of the Grade 10 year, students will need reinforcement throughout the Grade 10 school year and immediately prior to the test.
Practising with the YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students and any additional EQAO Support Materials is recommended at this time.

In addition, EQAO has released test items, answers, rubrics and responses. These materials can help students to understand and produce acceptable responses which meet the criteria identified in the scoring rubrics. Some of these rubrics and responses are embedded in YRDSB – OSSLT – Tips and Practice Tasks for Students; however, there are additional resources available at www.eqao.com.

Reading competence is critical to student success on the OSSLT and in all courses in high school. Students need to be familiar with the practices of proficient readers and they need to be able to employ those strategies effectively. Students must also have opportunities to practise answering multiple choice questions which require them to locate explicit information, make inferences, draw conclusions, connect to prior knowledge and identify a main idea. They must also learn how to set a purpose for reading and how to monitor their own comprehension – metacognition. All classroom teachers play a key role in assisting students to become competent and confident readers.
Explicit teaching of the literacy skills assessed in each writing task is essential for student success. As well, students need to be very familiar with the specific writing tasks on the OSSLT. Students should have adequate time to practise the tasks, but they should also be required to produce writing “on demand” and under time constraints. This practice can be of great benefit when they are required to perform, under pressure, on the test day.
The teacher and student materials that accompany this document contain writing task scoring rubrics. These can be used by both teachers and students to assess how well the student has met the task requirements.
Students need to review all of the test instructions and test terminology shortly before the test days. The sample schedules provided in this document demonstrate how some schools have used a whole school, cross-curricular approach to preparing their students for the test.
An assembly for all students writing the test can be very motivating and reassuring for all students. This is an opportunity for administrators and literacy / student success leaders to review test procedures and answer student questions.

After the test the school may wish to have students complete a survey on how well they felt they were prepared for the test. This data can eventually be compared with the EQAO results.


All students need explicit instruction in reading and writing and practise in becoming familiar with the test tasks; however, some students may need additional instruction and practice in order to be successful. The following strategies are very beneficial for those students who need additional support:

  • enrolling in the After-School Literacy program offered through Continuing Education (students can take this in Grade 9 and 10);

  • lunch time and after school literacy clubs provided by literacy/ student success teachers, classroom teachers, senior students and trained community partners;

  • additional guided practice with reading and writing strategies,

as student need indicates, in all courses;

  • additional practice at home, with parental support if possible, using the reading and writing activities at http://www.ilc.org/ ; and

  • targeted classroom instruction which addresses specific needs as identified through DRA or other diagnostic tools.

OSSLT Preparation – Instruction and Practice Schedule (4 Week Focus)






Feb 27th

Reading and responding to questions related to understanding of an information paragraph

Grade 10 Period 1

Feb 28th

Reading and responding to questions related to understanding of a news report

Grade 10 Period 2

March 1st

Reading and responding to questions related to understanding of a dialogue

Grade 10 Period 3

March 2nd

Reading and responding to questions related to a real-life narrative

Grade 10 Period 5

March 3

Reading and responding to questions related to understanding of a graphic text

Grade 10 – Period 1

March 6th

Writing short responses to prompts

Grade 10 Period 2

March 7th

Writing a series of paragraphs to express an opinion

Grade 10 Period 3

March 8th

Writing a news report

Grade 10 Period 5

March 9th

Responding to questions related to structuring content, organization of ideas and using conventions when writing

Grade 10 Period 1







March 20th

Responding to multiple choice questions

Grade 10 Period 2

March 21st


Grade 10 Period 3

March 22nd


Grade 10 Period 5

March 23rd


Grade 10 Period 1

March 24th


Grade 10 Period 2

March 27th


March 28th


Grade 10 Period 3

March 29th


March 30th


Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test

Dear Grade 10 Teachers,
The list for all students writing the OSSLT has been verified and all students are aware of the location they must report to on OSSLT day - Wednesday March 29th, 2006. Literacy workshops are being conducted for our at-risk population at lunch and after school.
Our diagnostic assessment data indicates that students need additional support and instruction in the following areas:

  • Writing the news report – making inferences from the photograph and headline;

  • Responding to multiple-choice questions; and

  • Reading Literary Selections – punctuation for dialogue.

Our response to this information is to hold “March Literacy Catch Up Sessions” to support student success in these three areas.
I would like to teach students in your classes over the next three weeks.

The schedule is as follows:



Key Area

Tuesday February 28th

1 / Teacher A

Writing the News Report

Thursday March 2nd

1 / Teacher B

Writing the News Report

Friday March 3rd

1 / Teacher C

Writing the News Report

Monday March 6th

2 / Teacher D

Responding to Multiple-Choice Questions

Wednesday March 8th

2 / Teacher E

Responding to Multiple-Choice Questions

Thursday March 9th

2 / Teacher F

Responding to Multiple-Choice Questions

Monday March 20th

3 / Teacher G

Reading Literary Selections

Tuesday March 21st

3 / Teacher H

Reading Literary Selections

Thursday March 23rd

3 / Teacher I

Reading Literary Selections

We would be happy to meet with you prior to your March Literacy Catch Up Session to discuss how we might cover or re-visit course content specific to your curriculum so you won’t feel like you’ve lost the period.

In addition to March Literacy Catch Up Sessions, we will host a series of information sessions:

Wednesday March 8th

Parent OSSLT/Cross-Curricular Literacy/II Information Evening

Wednesday March 22nd and Thursday March 23rd

Teacher OSSLT Information Sessions

Monday March 27th – period 4

Student OSSLT Information Assembly


The Education Quality and Accountability website (www.eqao.com) profiles School Success Stories. The schools which have shown significant improvement over time in terms of improved student success rates identified many of the following characteristics as critical factors in their success:

  • making literacy a school-wide priority with a culture of evidence-based decision-making;

  • using EQAO and school-generated data as tools to guide improvement planning;

  • a dynamic multi-disciplinary literacy team dedicated to empowering staff;

  • identifying strategies that improve student literacy skills;

  • cross-curricular sharing of best practices;

  • creative time-management to facilitate professional development;

  • diagnostic and practice literacy tests; and

  • remedial support and involvement of the broader school community.

In addition, a whole school approach may include some of the following elements:

  • a school literacy / student success committee with representatives from the core disciplines or all departments, administration, and school council (very important to build links with the school’s community in order to communicate all the activities schools undertake to support students);

  • a commitment to a skill of the month approach or a commitment to teaching certain reading skills and writing tasks at certain times in each subject area (see attached sample calendars;

  • a commitment to training for staff in teaching reading skills and writing forms;

  • a diagnostic approach – responding to information provided through Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) or other tools to determine those students who may be at risk with their literacy skills;

  • use of class time to engage students in diagnostic activities to determine students who may be at risk, and in practice activities drawn from EQAO Support Materials;
  • assemblies for Grade 9 students to give them key information about the test tasks and test experience, and to let them know how the school will support them, and what they can do to support themselves;

  • building a professional learning community that includes such activities as sharing strategies through workshops or presentations at staff meetings, demonstration classes, learning teams, mentoring and coaching,

  • peer tutoring programs operating at lunch hour; and

  • after-school programs to boost literacy skills.

The Report of The Expert Panel on Students at Risk in Ontario”, 2003 points to the importance of the development of literacy skills across all grades and all subjects:


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