Sunday, August 30, 2009

The victory lap

London Free Press reporter Kelly Pedro had a full-page feature Saturday on those Grade 12 students who return for a fifth year of high school.
Nothing earth-shattering in the piece, but it's been a while since we focused on these fifth-year students. The piece doesn't include any current stats for local boards (which a good board demographer does track), but an average of 15-20 per cent of Grade 12 students return for a fifth year of high school.
As the piece points out, the reasons are extremely varied and include:
  • Taking additional credits -- either because they weren't offered during the students' first four years or because the students want to take elective courses they couldn't or wouldn't squeeze into their schedule in prior years
  • Upgrading grades on previously taken credits
  • Related to the first, some schools are unable to offer a full slate of senior credits and must offer these credits every other year to net a critical mass of students
  • Some parents and students feel they're just not ready for work/college/university after four years at the age of 17 and 18.
The difficulty is, there's no one reason to explain why-- the piece had several students sounding off at the bottom:
The Free Press asked London high school students: Do you plan to spend an extra year in high school?
"It all depends. I'm hoping just the four (years), but it all depends on if I can keep to the plan."
-- Kyle Rubini, 15, Grade 10
"I'm probably going to do a victory lap to do better on courses I didn't do so well on."
-- Tara Langdale, 14, Grade 10
"I think I'll be staying five years to . . . redo some classes or get a chance to get classes in because you only get three elective courses (a year)."
-- Taylor Scott, 15, Grade 10
"I probably won't do a fifth year. I'll just get the credits done and get out. I'll work on getting a job and then maybe post-secondary."Lucas Mattatall, 16, Grade 12.
"I'm going (back) to get more science and biology because I want to be a CSI."
-- Micheal Alden, 16, Grade 11
"I want to be an architect so I want to go back. I want extra credits in design and art."
-- Danielle Vanhooren, 14, Grade 9
This fall marks the 10th cohort of students entering a four-year high school curriculum -- the first was the 1999-2000 cohort whose four-year grads left high school in June 2003. I'd love to write this piece again in 10 years and see how the stats look at that point in time (note to self-- remember to do this).


Anonymous said...

"because they can" is another reason students choose to stay on. Also "because at grade 8 orientation the students are invited to stay for 5 years."

Our local high school was seeing over 50% staying for victory lap.

Some of those did have all their credits and could have graduated but didn't.

I believe that the 5th year students are also contributing to a blended graduation rate at the provincial level whereby it's not clear how many kids are actually graduating successfully as required by the province...after 4 years, and which after, 5,6,7.

Also, there have been questions around how the 5th year students are funded. Some who choose initially to stay a whole year don't and end up leaving after a semester.

When I checked with my local MP on this her office was clear that the Ontario government recognizes the 4 year program as criteria for graduation from secondary school.

ER - there have even been some parents who have suggested that kids who take extra years to graduate shouldn't be competing for scholarships and awards with kids who graduate in 4 years.

The word on the street in my community is that if it weren't for the no. of students staying for a 5th year the secondary school would risk closure. So, it may very well affect accommodation numbers also.

RetDir said...

When the four year program was introduced, the assumption was that the 5 year cohort would eventually drop to what it is in all the other provinces (which all have four year programs), namely 20%. The last time I checked, the provincial average is closer to 35%, with (as Anon notes) some boards being significantly higher than this. The only way to stop this from happening is for the province not to fund students who are taking a fifth year for many of the reasons Anon has noted. How many students, for example, would return for a fifth year if they had to pay for credits they had already taken, or for any credits accumulated above the number required for graduation, or to play football for first semester? Equally, how many school boards would encourage students to return if they weren't going to get grant for them? The other pressure here is from OSSTF members, who know that if the 5 year grad rate dropped it would lead to fewer jobs for them - thus, there is an inbuilt incentive for them to recommend five year programs. From a staffing perspective, as Anon notes, this leads to overstaffing when students only enrol for first semester, as most boards have to staff for the entire year based on first semester numbers.
Ben Levin (the former Deputy Minister) was fond of quoting the cost of fifth year (which was enormous - perhaps close to a billion dollars) and asking if that was in fact what that much money should be spent on, or if there were better uses for that money in schools....still a good question.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 13:15:
I don't know provincially, but boards do track four- and five-year grad rates. If they don't release those, ask for them. If they still don't release them, cough up the $5 and file your access to info request. These are fraught with many of the same variables as there are reasons for staying for a fifth year.

I'm surprised RetDir didn't mention boards are funded on somewhat of a per-credit system for high school students. Average Daily Enrolment (ADE) figures are compiled based on two count dates (Oct. 31 and May 31). So a SemI student absent for SemII really does generate only half the funding. There is also a way to calculate who is a full-time student based on credit load-- I can't remember what the number is, but I know locally the board has petitioned the ministry to increase that number since students here take an average number of credits per year above the number the board is funded at.

As to the football-player scenario, there's a growing body of quasi-jurisprudence actually being developed by the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, which governs high school sports. We had a young bball player here who was kicked off a team by OFSAA after it was revealed she was 'recruited' by another high school in her fifth year. She enrolled in a business credit and even claimed temporary permanent residence within the school boundaries, but that didn't fly with OFSAA and she sat in the crowd all season.
I had also heard near the end of the school year that leagues ('A,' 'AA,' etc.) were being redefined to count only the four-year student populations.

As to awards-- I would think schools would have the ability to redefine criteria for local awards, with the boards doing so for others. The fairest way I would see is you are eligible for the award in the year you collect your diploma. Period.

Having said all that, I am obviously the product of five years of high school. However, I graduated with 40.5 credits (only needed 31 at the time) and spent most of my OAC year wondering what the hell I was still doing in high school. Upon arriving at university, in a program full of out-of-province students, I wondered again why I couldn't have started at their age, after four years of high school.


RetDir said...

Thanks for twigging my memory ER - the per credit funding is accurate, although complicated by a full time equivalent analysis, but where the financial hit occurs is in boards that staff for the full year based on Sept enrolments, and can't adjust as of the February enrolments. That means they staff based on a far larger number of students than they have later in the year...which can be a real financial hit, especially if there are a large number of students taking first semester victory laps.

Education Reporter said...

One would hope those boards are becoming rarer with every new collective agreement. A contract OT is the way to go to staff a higher-credit first semester-- extendable in the second semester pending credit loads.

One would hope, anyway.