The construction of 'illiterate' and 'literate' youth: the effects of high-stakes standardized literacy testing

Author(s): Kearns, Laura-Lee

Date: 2016

Pages: p. 121-140

High-stakes standardized literacy testing is not neutral and continues to build upon the legacy of dominant power relations in the state in its ability to sort, select and rank students and ultimately produce and name some youth as illiterate in contrast to an ideal white, male, literate citizen. The author traces the effects of high-stakes standardized testing by using the voices of 16 youth who failed the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) to illustrate how the ‘illiterate youth’ revealed to students, schools, and communities by this test is culturally and socially constructed. In an age where multiple literacies are more and more valued, standardized literacy testing acts as a form of social control projected upon the ‘adolescent’ body that has historically been deemed ‘other’ or ‘deficient.’ Just as colonized subjects needed to be ‘civilized,’ so youth now need to acquire a state defined literacy in a competitive and fast paced learning environment. This article helps to demonstrate how power operates on marginalized youth through standardized literacy testing that is being used transnationally.

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