Northern project helps aboriginal students succeed

By 
  • May 7, 2010
North West Catholic District School BoardTORONTO - A new project aimed at reducing the gap in reading and writing test scores for aboriginal students is producing impressive results, according to Mary-Catherine Kelly.

Kelly, Northwestern Catholic District School Board Director of Education, facilitated a presentation on the Oral Language Project at the 80th annual general meeting of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association from April 29 to May 1 in Thunder Bay, Ont.


The project is a partnership involving the four Catholic boards and four public boards in Northwestern Ontario.

It’s the first project in Canada that tracks the academic achievement of students self-identifying as aboriginal students, according to Kelly.

The project is dedicated to improving language and reading skills and student scores, with the goal of reducing the gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students from kindergarten to Grade 4.

“When children come to us, they are sometimes very quiet and not extremely talkative,” Kelly explained.

The project aims to develop students’ listening, oral and reading skills and is “culturally appropriate” and “culturally specific.”

So far, test scores are showing a “significant” improvement in students’ scores from the beginning of the year, with higher scores in literacy and reading comprehension.

For instance, by the end of senior kindergarten, aboriginal students are achieving the same scores as other students, Kelly said. And a majority of students who score less than 50 per cent at the start of the year are able to score 50 per cent or higher by year’s end.

The Oral Language Project’s partners have pooled their resources and the project receives funding from the provincial government’s Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat.

The project targets the “urgency” of reducing achievement gaps in children, especially in oral skills, Kelly said. Early intervention means a better chance at achievement.

There are about 1,450 students in six schools at the Northwestern Catholic District School Board in Atikokan, Stratton, Fort Frances, Dryden and Sioux Lookout, Ont. In each school, about 15 to 35 per cent of students are aboriginal.

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