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View From Inside: Performance Levels, High School Programs, and Post-Secondary School Options

View From Inside: Performance Levels, High School Programs, and Post-Secondary School Options

By Dr. Leon A. Barrett
PRIDE Education Specialist

Dr Leon A BarrettIn an earlier column, I noted that in the Ontario public education system Grades 7 and 8 are regarded as the transition years.

They are the transition from elementary to secondary education; are meant to consolidate learning from kindergarten to Grade 8; and are also to prepare students for their high school experiences.

The Grade 7 Term 2 report card is critical as it helps to determine the options Grade 8 students have for high school.

This report, along with the Grade 8 Progress Report, forms the basis for teachers to recommend high school program options, and for Grade 8 students and their parents to decide which high school program option to choose.

It is the right of Grade 8 students, with the assistance of their parents, to choose their high school program options, regardless of their performance level and what the teachers may recommend.

At the high school level in Ontario, programs are generally offered at three academic levels, namely, academic, applied, and vocational/locally developed. Each program option leads to particular post-secondary training options.

The following chart shows Performance Levels, High School Programs, and Post-Secondary Training Options.

Performance LevelsAs a practising educator, I always encourage students in Grades 7 and 8 to work to achieve Levels 3 and 4, so that they can pursue the academic program in high school. This gives the most options for post-secondary training.

So, for those students who are still in elementary school, I encourage you to perform at a very high academic standard, to increase your life chances with an academic program in high school.

I also encourage you to have mathematics, English, French, and science as your core subjects during your high school years. The potential is within you to do it. With these courses at the highest performance level, you will gain admission into any university program that accepts high school graduates.

In Grades 9 and 10, students must choose between academic and applied courses in each of the core subjects of English, French, Mathematics, Science, Geography, and History. Open courses are offered in areas such as the arts, health and physical education, business studies, English, Canadian and world studies, and information technology.

The following are the characteristics of the academic program:

  • emphasis or focus on theoretical applications of essential concepts
  • greater opportunities for independent learning
  • higher expectations for students to complete work independently without teacher guidance support
  • students are more interested in reading or researching about something first then explaining its applications
  • students are able to work independently with little teacher supervision

The following are the general characteristics of the applied program:

  • emphasizes or focuses on practical hands-on applications of concepts
  • is more teacher guided
  • assignments are broken down into smaller chunks
  • students want to do before they learn why
  • students don’t want to read about things first
  • students are not able to focus on the same task for a long time

The following are the general characteristics of the vocational/locally developed program:

  • smaller classes
  • for students whose skill level is below grade expectations
  • gives sufficient background and skill development to prepare for grade 10 Locally Developed and 11 and 12 Workplace preparation courses
  • ideas presented in a real-life context
  • technology used whenever appropriate

high school studentsApart from the general academic program many schools offer specialized programs. One such specialized program is French immersion. From kindergarten, French is the primary language of communication and instruction in all subjects except English of course. At the elementary school level other specialized programs include those for students with exceptionalities including the gifted. To find out what specialized programs are offered at a particular elementary school, parents are encouraged to contact the school.

Specialized programs at the secondary school level include Arts; International Business and Technology (IBT); International Baccalaureate  (IB); Science and Technology (SciTech); Enhanced Learning; Strings; Vocational; Truck and Coach; Advanced placement; Specialist High Skills – Business and Entrepreneurial Studies; Construction;  Environment; Health and Wellness; Hospitality and Tourism; Energy; Information and Communication Technology;  Justice, Community Safety and Emergency Services; Sports; Manufacturing; Non-profit; Transportation; Arts and Culture; Mining; Forestry; Horticulture and Landscaping. I encourage our students to enrol in these specialized programs in large numbers.

To earn an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), which is usually the basic requirement for admission to college or university, a student must earn a minimum of 30 credits that include 18 compulsory ones and 12 optional ones. A credit is a successful completion of a subject.

Compulsory credits (total of 18)
4 credits in English (1 credit per grade)
1 credit in French as a second language
3 credits in mathematics (at least 1 credit in Grade 11 or 12)
2 credits in science
1 credit in Canadian history
1 credit in Canadian geography
1 credit in the arts
1 credit in health and physical education
0.5 credit in civics
0.5 credit in career studies

1 additional credit in English, or a third language, or social sciences and the humanities, or Canadian and world studies
1 additional credit in health and physical education, or the arts, or business studies
1 additional credit in science (Grade 11 or 12) or technological education (Grades 9–12)

By the end of Grade 10, students should complete at least 12 of the 18 compulsory credits or they will be “at risk” of not completing the requirements for the secondary school diploma.

Optional credits (total of 12)
The optional credits can be chosen from the various subject areas.

For information on the courses offered at a particular secondary school, parents and their children are encouraged to contact that school.

Students must also complete 40 hours of community involvement activities and must successfully complete the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT).

It is important to point out that in the provincial education system, the students do not write a standardized exit examination to gain a school-leaving diploma or certificate. Subject examinations are set at the secondary school level. This means standards may vary.

If, however, as has been noted earlier, students complete the required 30 credits (subjects or courses) they earn a secondary school diploma, which is one of the prerequisites for admission into a tertiary educational institution.

Dr. Barrett is a retired Peel Region District Board teacher and educator. Write to him at pridenews@bellnet.ca.


  1. Thanks for posting this article. I realize that not until you are supplied a breakdown of the way the educational system functions that one truly understands the impact of your child (marginalized) within the school system. The information you shared Leon is critical for all parents to get a grip on and hopefully will help with the transition of children through schools. I do appreciate the encouragements and how focus driven you have prepared this article. I will definitely share and look for more of your work.

    • Thanks brijipoo. If you look under Commentary and Parenting & Education you will find other articles on education by me that may be of interest to and relevance for you.

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