A Hamilton mother is angry after a dozen special needs students at her son’s high school, she says, were forced to write the provincial Grade 10 literacy test on Thursday without the help of a dedicated scribe, an accommodation afforded to them under their individual education plans.

Laurie Hazelton, co-chair of the parent council at Parkview Secondary, said the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) sent too few educational assistants, leaving 12 of the 35 students who require a scribe to write the full-day test on their own.

“There are a lot of upset children there, there is a lot of crying,” said Hazelton, who volunteered at Parkview — a vocational school that serves roughly 220 students with special needs — on test day to monitor the halls and hand out snacks to kids who were writing the test.

“One boy wrote the test in 10 minutes who doesn’t have a scribe. It’s supposed to take all day,” she said. “And the test is written, you can’t change your answer.”

Some scribes worked to aid two students at the same time, she said, adding Parkview principal Paul Beattie was busy trying to help as well. 

But reinforcements weren't enough to make up for the shortage, said Hazelton. She's concerned that several students will fail who wouldn't have otherwise. 

"For me, this is kind of setting kids up for failure."

School didn't request more scribes: board

HWDSB spokeswoman Jackie Penman said the board sent 20 educational assistants to Parkview to assist with the test — the same number the school was allotted last year. However, the school didn't made a request for additional scribes this time around, she said.

“At this point, I’ll have to look into it,” she told CBC Hamilton around noon on Thursday.

The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) consists of a reading and writing component, according to the Ministry of Education’s website. The reading section asks test-takers to read a “variety of selections” and answer a list of questions about the passages. To complete the writing component, students must pen four pieces that differ in length. 

'They need to be given at least a fighting chance at writing this test that they need to write to graduate.'—Laurie Hazelton

Students are required to pass the exam to graduate high school, but the results don't factor into their report card average. Children who fail the test, or miss it due to illness, can rewrite it at a later date.

But Hazelton said she’s concerned the public board won’t supply enough scribes in future rounds of testing. Her son, Malcolm, may write the exam in 2015, she said. 

“They need to be given at least a fighting chance at writing this test that they need to write to graduate.”

The ordeal has inflicted additional stress on the student body at Parkview, which is set to close in June despite outcry from the community. In the fall, most students from Parkview will attend schools in their respective neighbourhoods. 

Hazelton expects problems will persists. The receiver schools, she said, won’t be equipped to deal with the influx of special needs students. 

“If they can’t provide the scribes this year, how are they going to provide them next year when they are in the new schools?”