Whatever happened to …

… Grade 13?

If you want the short answer, it’s no longer around. In the 1980s, it morphed into the Ontario Academic Credit and then was removed a few years after that. A typical secondary school program in Ontario now is four years in length. 

Some students will return for a “victory lap” but that’s about it.

I thought that this would be fun to write since I went to Grade 13 and was affected (I think) by the Hall-Dennis report. As a student, are you really aware of policy changes? What follows isn’t necessarily the absolute truth. A lot of this was written with my tongue firmly in cheek. There’s my disclaimer.

In Grade 8, of course, we planned for school for Grade 9. We had to make our choices and I don’t recall a whole lot of guidance. Basically, it you wanted to go to university, you would enroll in “five year”. If you wanted to go to college or go directly into the workforce, you would enroll in “four year”. If you were in special education, you would enroll in “two year” or “occupations”. These were major decisions for someone aged 13. It was also my first introduction as to just how big our high school around the corner was.

I wanted to go to university so I enrolled in “five year”. Why? I really didn’t have a clue. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

That meant going to Grade 13 and I was OK with that. After you made the time commitment, you had to choose the stream. B&C – Business and Commerce, A&S – Arts and Science, or ST&T – Science, Technology and Trades. Now, A&S was the stream that took you directly to university but that meant taking Latin so that was out. ST&T sounded like a lot of hard work so that was out. B&C was Business and Commerce and that was appealing to follow in my father’s footstep. The only problem was that it typically offered courses only to Grade 12. But, I did enroll in “five year” and B&C and they let do it. Things changed and Computer Programming was offered in Grade 11. This lowly Grade 8er didn’t see that coming and it did inspire me to think that I could make a career out of programming. It was taught by the Head of Business so I had made a good choice.

We were told over and over how great the Ontario Education system was with its five year high school program. Nobody else in the world does it this way. Of course, we wondered if we were just slower than others.

To be honest, none of this really mattered going to university. They looked at the average of your best 6 Grade 13 courses. I took 3 Maths, 3 Sciences, and one English to hedge my bet. As could have been predicted, English was my lowest mark and I didn’t really need it.

As a Grade 13 student, we ruled the school. When we had spares, we had our own lounge and we’d go there to play euchre and darts and not have to associate with the “four year” kids. At the time, the legal drinking age in Ontario was 18 and so it was possible to go for a refreshment at lunch, if we wanted. Things were so much different than they are now.

It was in Grade 13 that we realized that the rules were kind of artificial. You just needed to work hard at everything and do the best you can. Not everyone who was in the “five year” program ended up going to university. As it turns out, colleges had terrific programs and you could get admitted without that extra year of schooling. Universities, not so much.

My wife would be the perfect example. She enrolled in the “five year” program but only needed four years to get to where she wanted academically for post-secondary education.

Things today have changed completely. We now realize that universities, colleges and going directly to work all offer amazing opportunities for students who know where they want to go. With the flexibility of course choices now and the lack of streaming we had, guidance is more important than ever.

For a Sunday, your thoughts?

  • Did you attend Grade 13?
  • Hall-Dennis was a big time change in education in Ontario. Can you think of any program that has wide-sweeping changes after that?
  • Are students in Grade 8 prepared to set a path for their academics?
  • What was your focus for studies in high school?
  • Did you get good guidance advice before you went to high school? Do you remember the name of your guidance counsellor?
  • Would you have done things differently or made different choices with what you know now?
  • Did you attend University or College or move to the world of work?
  • Could today’s students thrive in the academic world that you grew up in?
  • Did you use the extra year at high school as an opportunity to save money to go to university?
  • Speaking of money, would the cost savings of removing a Grade 13 or 5th year of education have been a determining factor?
  • If you were Queen or King of the world, how would you change the current educational system?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – serious or otherwise. Please do so in the comments below.

This is a regular Sunday morning feature around here. All of the past “Whatever happened to …” posts are available here.


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