Every spring, tens of thousands of grade eight students receive high school confirmation letters asking them to select their grade nine courses. Students are required to choose their mandatory courses, either academic or applied, and their electives for the coming school year. While some students know which career path they want to pursue, most thirteen year old students remain unsure, and are encouraged by teachers and guidance to keep their career options open. But for grade eight students, choosing applied over academic math, even for grade nine, can define their high school education and limit their post-secondary options.
Students that decide to take applied math in grade nine tend to choose applied courses in their other subjects. However, choosing grade nine applied subjects limits your course options throughout the rest of high school. In fact, only 5% of university-level grade eleven/twelve course enrollment was made up of students who primarily took applied courses in grade nine . Most of the interviewed grade nine applied students at MGCI wished to enter university after high school, and hoped to transition to the academic/university stream. These students also noted that they would have taken and benefited from a merged grade nine course.
Merging applied and academic streams in grade nine would improve graduation rates and student success in both the workplace and in post-secondary institutions. This would especially benefit students who would otherwise choose applied courses. The curriculum for these newly-merged courses would remain at the academic-level. However, putting these “applied” students into academic-level courses would provide additional motivation from peers and teachers and set them up for success, while leading to broader options throughout the rest of high school. Though some may argue that putting lower-level students with higher-level students is setting the former up for failure, research conducted at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate indicates that 86% of applied students taking academic courses passed, compared to the normal success rate of 77% in applied courses . Thus, with teacher support and possible extracurricular help, students who would normally choose applied courses can easily be successful in academic-level environments as well.
Moreover, students that choose applied courses in their freshman year are more likely to be “at-risk” (a term used by TDSB to describe students that finish grade nine with less than 8 credits) than academic students, and are also more likely to drop out of high school. It is more probable for them to stay in applied and college-level courses throughout high school, partly because applied math students in grade nine have to commit to completing a summer school transition credit to jump up to Grade 10 academic math. These at-risk students are often found in poor socioeconomic neighbourhoods, where the risk of students not completing a high school diploma is higher, and employment and post-secondary education rates are lower .
Studies and reports by the TDSB and similar educational research organizations have found a strong connection between income level and student success, but at-risk students can be found all over the district, regardless of their family income level. Similarly, students new to Canada may be unsure about their education level or their ability to succeed in school, and so a merged course would be of benefit. To help these students succeed, we should ensure that they can have the option of continuing to university or other forms of post-secondary education, and encourage them to take courses that allow this.
The Ontario government needs to merge the grade nine academic and applied courses for all high schools. Higher level education is becoming increasingly important, and merging grade nine academic and applied courses will provide students with more time to evaluate career and post-secondary options, while showing students who would normally choose applied streams that they can also succeed in academic ones. Keeping post-secondary paths open is important, and while university may not be for all students, grade nine merged classes would still benefit everyone. If students are simply not willing to commit or cannot keep up to academic-level courses, they can still take the remainder of their high school courses at an applied or college level — grade nine merged classes simply give students an opportunity to assess career paths and keep options open.
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