Applied stream students less likely to graduate from high school

People for Education, an education advocacy group, is calling for the provincial government to end streaming -- particularly in Grade 9.  

Their report, Applied or Academic: High Impact Decisions for Ontario Students, found that students in applied stream classes are less likely to graduate from high school. 

Report finds that applied stream students are more likely to drop out of school.

Report finds that applied stream students are more likely to drop out of school.

What is streaming?

In Grade 8, students complete option sheets to indicate the courses they want to take in high school.

Gloria Knoll taught Grade 8 for many of her thirty years in the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, and has helped countless high school-bound students choose the right stream for them. 

However, she knows that her opinion is not final.

“Teachers recommend academic, applied or basic streams. Effort and work habits play into it slightly and may move a kid up but never down,” she said. 

“Teachers recommend, but students and parents have the final say.”

But what if they made the wrong choice? 

Peer pressure, low self-esteem, and lack of support at home are just a few factors which could impact this crucial decision. 

The report found that only 3% of principals report that students transfer “often or very often” between applied and academic courses.

This means that students may feel locked into a choice that they made in the eighth grade, and this decision can have serious consequences.

People for Education found that in the Toronto District School Board, only 40% of students who started high school in the applied stream graduated after five years. 

In addition, a provincial study found that only 21% of students in applied courses went to college.

Impact of streaming on newcomer students

In Ontario, newcomers to Canada are assessed in math and English by the school boards to recommend the stream and grade for each student.

Some newcomer students are unhappy with their results and feel unchallenged in the applied stream. 

They also feel unable to switch to the academic stream because their parents often trust that the school has made the right decision. 

School Settlement Workers, who work closely with newcomer students to help them integrate into the new schools, find that very few newcomers switch to academic courses. 

“The applied stream is supposed to be more of a transition phase,” one School Settlement Worker said. 

“Students are supposed to transfer to the academic stream later on. Unfortunately, however, it seems that many newcomers are relegated to the applied courses for the rest of their high school stay.”

Students in English as a Second Language classes may feel locked out of the academic stream. 

“The ESL classes in some schools are not really conducive to learning academic English,” he said. “Students of different language skill levels are all put in the same class. Thus, lessons progress only as fast as the slowest learners.” 

Some frustrated newcomer youth have left their parents to return to their home countries, or dropped out of high school altogether.

An issue of race and class

People for Education also found that in the highest income neighbourhoods, only 6% of students take most of their courses in the applied stream. 

In the lowest income neighbourhoods, 33% of students are primarily in applied stream courses. 

One public secondary school teacher in northwest Toronto agreed that streaming is often an issue of race and class. 

“Some of our neediest and racialized students are being streamed into lower level classes early. 

As a result of systemic issues, our most vulnerable students are losing out on opportunities that would prepare them for post-secondary success.”

While most educators would agree that streaming is beneficial for teachers who can create lessons geared towards a certain skill level, allowing streaming as early as Grade 9 may help some students to succeed, or it may close the door to future opportunities.


This article was originally published in The Philippine Reporter on April 21, 2015.