School programs

TDSB calls for end to auditions and entrance exams for specialized high school programs

The Toronto District School Board is seeking to waive all admission fees, entrance exams, auditions, and mid-level report card assessments needed to gain entry to some of the city’s most sought-after high school programs.

The TDSB said a decade of data has “regularlyshowed that these specialized schools and programs disproportionately serve students whose parents have middle to high incomes. Not all students who could benefit from Toronto’s more than 40 arts, athletics, math and science-focused specialty programs or schools were able to attend, the board said.

The proposed changes, which will be submitted to the board for final review on May 25, were developed based on consultations and surveys with parents, students, staff and administrators.

Instead of demonstrating their strength or ability in certain areas in order to be selected for a specialized school, prospective students will only have to declare their interest. What an expression of interest looks like will vary by school, a TDSB spokesperson said, but it could range from written letters to dance performances.

This differs from an audition in that candidates will not be assessed on their technical skills, but rather on their passion for the subject.

From there, a lottery of interested students would determine placement.

The proposed changes have angered some parents and students in special schools. Some told the Star they thought it would lower the prestige of their programs, invalidate the work they did to earn a place in the school of their choice or hinder the development of future generations of gifted children. Toronto.

Others see it as a belated solution to a system that overwhelmingly prioritized favored candidates.

“What the Toronto council’s research shows is that it’s inevitable, when you have a special school system, that children will be divided along socio-economic or even racial lines,” said Annie Kidder , executive director of People for Education, a Canadian charity that studies public education.

“Removing the many barriers that prevent children from accessing these types of schools is an important step in the overall goal of equitably providing quality, strong and diverse education.

Some specialist schools have already independently abandoned more traditional admission requirements.

Ursula Franklin Academy, a specialty school that offers liberal arts and science programs, used to assess candidate report cards and entrance essays. Last fall, the school moved to a random selection process.

And unlike other art schools in Toronto, Rosedale Heights School of the Arts does not hold auditions for entrance because it believes “in fairness for all students, regardless of background. and their access to arts education”, according to a brochure for school.

“Some kids have advantages that others don’t, and they have them early on,” Kidder said. “More access to sports, artistic activities, summer camp. They come from a privilege that brings them enrichment or support that other children do not have.

Kidder said specialized high schools, in their current form, serve to exacerbate those benefits.

Kunal Joshi, a parent of a child enrolled in a specialist program, told The Star he was outraged by the proposed policy revisions. He said they amounted to “discrimination” against students who make the effort to secure a placement.

“It’s alarming, mind-boggling,” he said. “If I had an interest in being a fighter pilot, I would have to show that I prepared for it, that I have basic qualifications. There must be a quantifiable way to assess all children. A declaration of interest is qualitative, there is no appropriate criterion for it.

Joshi is not alone in not supporting the proposed changes. A online petition to “fight for specialty programs in the TDSB” had more than 2,500 signatories as of Monday night.

The petition says that while the proposed policy changes would “surely help” marginalized communities, they would also negatively influence the “unique identity” of specialty programs. “If we allow this proposal to become policy, we will not get over it,” he says.

In response to these criticisms, Kidder said the net good of the proposed policy should outweigh any individual discomfort.

“There is always a balancing act in public education,” she says. “It’s a struggle between the private good that we want as individuals and the public good. We need to think about the kinds of abilities, skills and experiences that all children should have and how we can ensure these are accessible to them. This is the most important thing.

Ben Cohen is a reporter in Toronto for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @bcohenn

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