After widespread technical issues forced the cancellation of the first-ever online Ontario literacy test earlier this year, the agency tasked with administering the exam says next year's version will be paper only. 

The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) said Friday it would be  temporarily shelving the online version of the test after its October launch was marred by a cyberattack. The organization said it still hasn't successfully completed a large enough trial of the system since the attack and doesn't know when the online version will be ready to use.

"Given the considerable frustration and anxiety that resulted from the cyberattack, EQAO feels that it would be irresponsible to put students at risk of any further issues without having completed a successful large-scale online trial," the agency said in a news release.

The announcement comes after a brand new system for administering the test online crashed in October, leaving many students unable to complete the test.

The EQAO said the network was the target of an "intentional, malicious and sustained" cyberattack involving a "vast set of IP addresses around the globe."


"Widespread technical issues" cancelled the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) in October, the first time the test was being offered online in a "field readiness" evaluation of the new system. (CBC)

Most of the province's 900 secondary schools — representing some 147,000 students — had signed up to participate in the test, which was a technical trial run before the first official test scheduled next year.

"While we are pressing 'Pause' on EQAO's move toward online assessments, we are by no means hitting 'Stop,'" the the agency's director of assessment Richard Jones said Friday of the delayed online roll-out.

"The intent is to come back with a system that better addresses needs in terms of usability, accessibility and security."

Cyberattack investigation ongoing

In a statement, Education Minister Mitzie Hunter called the move "the best way forward," adding she will want assurances that the relevant security concerns and system stability requirements have been addressed before the online system is implemented.

Hunter also wants to see the EQAO "present a public account of what happened and what steps will be taken
to ensure student success is not put at risk‎ again." 

The agency's original intent was to deliver the March 2017 test online and have a paper version only as a back up in case of possible glitches. 

The extra time will be used to gather feedback about the design of the system from teachers, students and parents, it said in the release. 

Investigations into the cyberattack are still underway, the agency says, and will lead to recommendations about additional security measures. 

Enough information was received to score about 18,000 students who managed to participate in the test. Results will be sent to schools in mid-January, the agency says. 

With files from The Canadian Press