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Study: Streaming in Grade 10 in four provinces

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The Daily

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Social background – specifically, the education level of parents and the family's income – played a significant role in the course-selection choices made by high school students in four provinces, according to a new study.

The study examined the extent to which the "streaming" of Grade 10 students occurred in 2000 in four provinces: Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. It used data from Cycle 1 of the Youth in Transition Survey.

Streaming, or the "tracking" of high school students through different sequences of core courses, has been practised in Canada and other developed countries for decades. It has been the subject of vigorous debate.

Specifically, the study found that the academic placement of students in Grade 10 math, science, and English courses was strongly related to their parents' education and family income.

Teens from more advantaged families were more likely to be taking the type of math, science and English courses that would keep all their postsecondary options open, compared to teens from families in which neither parent had a postsecondary education and in which family incomes tended to be lower.

The study also showed that, although the effects were weaker, visible minority and immigrant students and students for whom English or French was not their first language were somewhat more likely to have all postsecondary options open.

This is in contrast with earlier research which suggested that some visible minority groups and students taking English as a second language were disproportionately found in streams that would restrict their educational and career options. However, it was consistent with more recent research which suggested that visible minority immigrant youth aim high.

The study found large provincial differences in streaming. A Grade 10 student in Saskatchewan, for example, was much more likely to have university options open than a student in British Columbia, Ontario or Alberta.

Proponents of streaming argue that students with different abilities and aptitudes should have the opportunity to take different sequences of courses while completing high school.

Those most academically inclined should have the opportunity to take the most advanced courses, which will challenge them. In contrast, students who are less academically inclined should be encouraged to take the level of course that best meets their learning needs and allows them to develop to the fullest of their abilities.

Opponents argue that the unintended consequences of the practice include the channelling of young people from less advantaged backgrounds into secondary course streams. These, in turn, may limit their chances of getting into postsecondary programs that lead to better-paying and higher-status careers.

The article "Streaming in the 10th grade in four Canadian provinces in 2000" is now available in the online publication Education Matters: Insights on Education, Learning and Training in Canada, Vol. 4 no. 2 (81-004-XIE, free), from the Publications module of our website.

This edition of Education Matters: Insights on Education, Learning and Training in Canada also contains the article "A first look at provincial differences in educational pathways from high school to college and university." It examines differences in educational choices between boys and girls aged 15 to 19 in various provinces and on the basis of family income.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-4441;, Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.