GTA secondary schools faking grades in exchange for cash

Critics are speaking out against private schools that are giving out high school credits to students without them actually earning the marks. Tammie Sutherland has more on those calling for more oversight of independent schools.

By Tammie Sutherland

Falsifying report cards, inflating marks and faking attendance records. It’s happening at a handful of high schools in the GTA and could be impacting which students get into Canadian colleges and universities.

“It’s just so wrong. The Ministry isn’t doing enough. It’s been going on for years”, said Alice Boyle, a recently retired public school teacher in York Region who brought her concerns to CityNews.

The educator of 34 years, who most recently taught ESL, said she has witnessed a troubling trend – students struggling in public high school courses who drop out in order to pay for higher grades at some GTA private schools.

“There’s a credit mill around here, you just walk over, plunk down your $600-$800 and sometimes, depending the school, they may ask you what mark you need for what course and you don’t have to go to a class.”

Boyle’s concerns prompted CityNews to look at how hundreds of private and independent secondary schools in the province are governed.

Private schools operate independent of the Ministry of Education, but they still must pass provincial inspection before being given the green light to offer official Ontario Secondary School Diploma credits.

According to the Ministry’s website, more than 20 private secondary schools have had their credit-granting status revoked since 2013. Fifteen of those schools are located in the GTA.

Of those 15 schools, 9 of them were located on a stretch of Yonge Street between North York and York Region. Many of those schools are in plazas and largely corporate buildings.

Documents obtained by CityNews through a Freedom of Information Request show several examples of why some of these schools had their status revoked.

In 2013, Canadian Nobel Academy was accused of letting “students buy credits,” “falsifying student attendance,” and having a “routine practice of mark inflation.” In 2017, the school’s status was revoked again after a Grade 12 biology student received a report card and a mark of 84% immediately upon enrollment.

In 2015, Alpha Star High School in Richmond Hill was accused of providing students only half of the 110 instruction hours required to earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma credit.

Boyle said the closure of the schools often doesn’t stop the cycle of purchased grades. “These private schools sometimes open up and get closed down by the Ministry and then they re-open months later under a different name.”

The Yonge Street and Steeles Avenue address where Canadian Nobel Academy was located has now been replaced by another school named “Toronto Nobel Academy.”

According to the new school’s website, Toronto Nobel is being run by the same principal who inspectors say issued fake report cards on more than one occasion in the past.

The principal refused to answer any questions about his record or his schools when CityNews visited the property. He did not respond to emails from CityNews requesting comment.

One of the more brazen examples of grade-purchasing involved North Toronto Private High School in Thornhill in 2018.

Ministry documents show the school confessed to giving 98% to a student who they admit did not attend any classes. That grade was submitted to the Ontario University Application Centre, but was withdrawn once the school failed inspection.

Boyle said it’s an example of how a deserving students can be impacted by fake, inflated marks. “You also qualify for entrance scholarships then. So if you get 95%+, you can get $4,000 a year in scholarships from the school very unfairly.”

CityNews requested an interview with Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce. His office sent a statement instead, saying in part, “The Ministry does not regulate, licence, accredit or otherwise oversee the operation of private schools…As such, we strongly encourage parents/guardians and students to actively conduct research before registering.”

The Ministry said private schools are inspected at least once every two years by six full-time inspectors and an undisclosed number of part-time inspection staff.

Charles Pascal, a professor with U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, calls the province’s oversight of private schools “abysmal”.

Pascal said the Ford government’s controversial overhaul of the education system means greater regulation of private schools has become even more important.

“If you’re asking me if this particular government will do it, well I doubt that very seriously, because what they’re doing with public education in general actually may lead to more activity outside of the public school domain.”

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