Grade 13 may be making a comeback for a limited time

KITCHENER, Ont.—Grade 13 may be making a comeback, for a limited time.

Students who feel the need to catch up after missing months of in-class learning throughout the pandemic could opt for an additional final year of high school under a $295 million plan unveiled Friday by the Liberal leader Steven Del Duca in the June 2 election campaign.

The proposal is aimed at students who don’t feel ready for higher education and is meant to be more than the “victory lap” some teens take to improve their grades or get extra credits, Del Duca said Friday.

“A lot of our kids fell backwards,” he told reporters at a skateboard park next to a high school in the west.

“For children who need time and who need extra instruction and extra attention before they go to college or university, take up a trade or their future career, I want to make sure that they have the opportunity to get support in a structured way. »

The additional grade, with a wider course selection yet to be decided, would be offered for four years and then reassessed to determine whether it should continue, said Del Duca, who follows Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford in polls.

According to The Signal, the Star’s provincial election prediction tool based on various polls, the Conservatives have 36.5% support, followed by the Liberals at 27.6%, the New Democrats at 24.5% and the Greens. at 5.7%.

The Liberal pledge comes after Ontario students endured the longest online-only class periods in North America due to strict public health measures here.

In fact, teenagers graduating from Grade 11 across the province next month have yet to have an uninterrupted year of high school.

A 9th grader who watched Del Duca’s ad as she ran endorsed it after her own experience with repeated periods of learning at home over the past three school years.

“I feel like 13th grade would be like a closure for me to get four full, normal years,” Tessa Jagellowicz of Resurrection High School said, fingers crossed.

After many years of debate, Ontario ended a fifth year of high school in 2003 because it was the only jurisdiction in North America to offer one.

Ford, himself a Grade 13 graduate, did not respond directly to Del Duca’s proposal when asked about it during a campaign stop in Bowmanville, but criticized the previous Liberal government.

“When I took office, 50% of students were failing math. They failed students, they closed 600 schools, and they had tripled the number of pending repairs,” Ford added. “We build schools.

In Burlington, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath falsely accused the Liberals of scrapping grade 13 after they took office in 2003.

It was the previous PC governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves from 1995 to 2003 that made and followed the decision – which was recommended to the previous NDP government of Bob Rae by the Royal Commission on Learning.

“It’s interesting that the Liberals are trying to fix something they broke in the first place,” Horwath said.

The January 1995 royal commission report found “no evidence” that Grade 13 provided “a superior return to university compared to students who spend only four years in secondary school”.

A number of studies have pointed to the phenomenon of “learning loss” in the pandemic, with the Toronto District School Board, for example, noting steep drops in reading levels. In February, Education Minister Stephen Lecce earmarked an additional $35 million for student support.

Del Duca opened up about the challenges facing his two daughters, one in elementary school, the other now in high school, since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“I have watched with pain as our daughters struggle with remote learning and the lockdowns that have set them back both academically and socially,” he said.

A return to Grade 13 would mark one of the biggest changes to the school system in two decades and is one of many new boards in the Liberal Education Platform released on Friday.

It includes hiring 1,000 more mental health professionals for students and staff, hiring another 5,000 special education workers to reduce wait times for students with autism, expanding the nutrition program students to provide free “grown in Ontario” breakfasts to children in need; and replacing EQAO Tests with a new assessment strategy.

“We will work with parents, teachers and education experts to develop it,” a liberal source told The Star.

Del Duca has already proposed building 200 new schools and repairing or upgrading another 4,500, and a hard cap of 20 students per class in all grades, a move that would require hiring 10,000 more teachers, but raised concerns about more split-grade classes. and whether enough educators can be found in the current shortage.

He said the $10 billion saved by killing Ford’s plan to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass on Highway 400 would be used to improve public education.

Under the Grade 13 proposal, school boards would get full funding for every student and the province would ‘pause’ the current policy of reducing funding for students who take a ‘victory lap’ after earning all 34 credits now. required for graduation.

New courses for grade 13 would include personal finance, civics, mental health and wellbeing. Del Duca said others would be developed in consultation with educators and admitted it would be “a little difficult” to get the extra year in place in time for school next September.

Worries about learning loss in the pandemic are widespread among educators, who worry that students aren’t regularly logging on for remote learning, don’t have reliable internet, a quiet place to study or a relative at home to help them.

The end of a fifth year of high school has created a surge in college and university enrollment, a phenomenon known as the “double cohort” that has forced post-secondary schools to add capacity as students 12th and 13th graders arrived on campus at the same time. weather.

With files from Kristin Rushowy and Robert Benzie


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