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Ontario students making course picks too young: report

A new report by People for Education says students in Ontario should not have to choose between hands-on applied and theoretical academic courses at the start of high school.

Research from the education lobby group and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggest streaming contributes to greater achievement gaps and inequality.

“Dividing students in this way has only exacerbated inequality,” Annie Kidder, executive director of People for Education, told The Canadian Press.

The report, Choosing Courses for High School, said Ontario eliminated streaming in 1999 and in theory students can mix and match academic and applied courses in the six core subjects of English, math, history, science, geography and French.  But education ministry data indicates that’s not the case in practice, the group said.

The majority of students who take Grade 9 applied math take the majority of their core subjects in the applied stream, the report said. And in almost all cases, those in applied courses are in different classrooms, receive instruction from different teachers and study a different curriculum than those in academic courses, the report said.

The report said that data released from the OECD in December confirmed earlier OECD findings—that dividing students early contributes to worse educational outcomes for those from poorer backgrounds.

From its own research, People for Education found that Ontario students in applied courses are less likely to graduate.  A 2012 Toronto DSB report showed that 88 per cent of students who took academic mathematics in Grade 9 went on to graduate from high school, compared to 59 per cent of those in the applied side. Province-wide data from a 2010 report also shows a 28 per cent gap in the graduation rate, the report stated.

Data also shows that the majority of students in applied math do not go on to college as only 21 per cent of them registered for college.

Testing from the Education Quality and Accountability Office shows there is a 40 per cent achievement gap between students in academic and applied courses.

People for Education says it’s time for Ontario to consider adopting OECD recommendations that  “education systems should avoid early tracking, and defer student selection to upper secondary.”

Kidder said, “We have to do more to ensure that parents are getting the appropriate information about course choices, and it is time to consider re-vamping applied and academic courses altogether.”

In a statement, Education Minister Liz Sandals thanked People for Education for its report, and acknowledged that a gap remains between students in academic and applied courses.

It’s one of the reasons why the ministry has expanded its school support initiative to additional high schools in the 2014-15 school year, which allows participating schools to have access to new learning resources, professional resources and monitoring tools, she said.

Sandals added graduation rates have increased from 68 per cent in 2002 to 83 per cent in 2012.

Click here to read the full report.