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A three-year plan to phase out academic streaming for Grade 9 and 10 students is among key changes being proposed by the head of the Toronto District School Board.
The controversial practice of separating students into academic university-bound courses versus applied-level classes has led to “inequitable outcomes” and limited pupils’ options for the future, TDSB director John Malloy says in a new report.
Research shows students in applied courses are less likely to graduate or attend post-secondary school, and that streaming disproportionately affects students who are Black and from poorer and marginalized communities.
“Based on a three-year phased schedule, we will begin to support the majority of our students in academic level programming for Grades 9 and 10,” says the report, released Thursday.
“It’s not about just changing a subject, but opening a pathway,” he added in an interview Friday.
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The destreaming plan is among many sweeping changes in response to recommendations from the board’s enhancing equity task force last fall.
Malloy’s 27-page response will be reviewed Wednesday by the TDSB’s planning and priorities committee, who will also hear presentations from the public. It goes to the full board for approval on Feb. 7.
The review of programs and policies at Canada’s largest school board was aimed at removing barriers faced by students as a result of such factors as race, socioeconomics or disability, and ensuring kids have equal access to supports and options. It includes changes affecting everything from teacher training to suspension policies, hiring policies and improving Black student achievement.
Other key priorities outlined by Malloy include more integration of special education students in regular classrooms, while also maintaining congregated programs and schools for parents who think their children are better served in those settings.
Malloy also reiterates an earlier commitment to maintaining the current array of specialty schools and programs such as those focusing on arts, science and technology and business. However the board will be reviewing admissions processes and other measures to attract a more diverse population and encourage youth from all backgrounds to attend.
An idea floated by the task force last fall to phase out specialized arts-based schools, which draw primarily white and affluent students, prompted an outcry from the community and a promise from Malloy that would not happen.
The move to eliminate applied-level courses in Grades 9 and 10 is already underway at the TDSB, with 16 high schools at various stages of “destreaming,” a trend the province also committed to last fall.
But Malloy said in an interview it’s critical that the shift is supported throughout a child’s education starting as early as kindergarten. He is proposing new interventions for students struggling in reading and math in kindergarten through Grade 2.
“We are not attempting to create a list of things to do without understanding how they all connect,” he said.
Teachers from Grades 7 through 10 will receive additional resources and be part of the transition team for phasing out streaming. The board will also make changes to accommodate smaller class sizes to and ensure students get adequate support.
Parent Shellie Suter, who fought to preserve special education programs for students who do better in those classes, said she’s relieved the option of congregated classes will still be available.
“We are also encouraged by the stated commitment to give parents increased voice and input into placement options,” said Suter, chair of the learning disabilities parent group at Northern Secondary School, where her son is in Grade 11.
However, Suter added she remains concerned about plans for destreaming, pending details about teacher training and reduced class sizes that will be key to providing students in middle school and high school with the support they need.