On Campus

Ontario touts increase in graduation rates

But critics say stats are misleading, are instead a “politically useful number”

Ontario’s Liberal government boasted of another increase in high school graduation rates Monday, but opposition critics warned the numbers aren’t telling the whole story.

That’s because the province is still using a five-year standard to measure graduation rates for its four-year high school program, even though Grade 13 was eliminated in Ontario in 2003.

The high school graduation rate was 77 per cent last year, up from 75 per cent the year before, said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.

When questioned about the numbers, Wynne conceded the graduation rate included students who took five years to complete the four-year high school program.

“There are lots of kids who want to take courses that they can’t fit into their timetables, so they come back in that fifth year to do that, and I think that’s a perfectly legitimate thing to do,” she said.

“What we wouldn’t want to do is set up a situation where we weren’t counting those kids as graduating from high school, (because) it doesn’t make any sense.”

The opposition parties welcomed the improvement in the graduation rate, but questioned the validity of the numbers and the government’s methodology.

“The government hasn’t been totally forthcoming in some of the efforts they’ve been using in order to make it appear that things are better than they were in the past,” said Progressive Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer.

On her first day in the legislature as leader of Ontario’s New Democrats, Andrea Horwath said she was worried the numbers were designed to make graduation rates look better than they actually are.

“The government is more concerned with generating a politically useful number than with ensuring that real achievement and future success of students is taking place,” said Horwath.

“We have real concerns that your numbers may be less a measure of success and more a way of hiding failure.”

Last summer, Statistics Canada reported the national graduation rate was nearly 75 per cent in 2006, about the same level it was in 1999. Graduation rates were highest in the Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan, and lowest in Alberta and the three territories.

The highest drop out rates in Canada, measuring people between 20 and 24 who don’t have a diploma, are in Quebec and the Prairie provinces. British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest rate of high school dropouts.

Wynne couldn’t say what the graduation rate was for Ontario students after four years of high school because the Ministry of Education doesn’t track that number.

“I don’t have that number for you, because we think the more valid number is the kids who graduate within that five year window,” she said, noting that the rate doesn’t include people who leave school early but later get their diploma.

“In fact, far from inflating the grad rate, we’re actually being pretty true to what is done in other provinces.”

According to Education Ministry figures released Monday, the 77 per cent graduation rate in 2007-08 was equivalent to 115,500 students, and compared with a graduation rate of 68 per cent in 2003-04.

Wynne said her goal was to have 85 per cent of students graduating from high school by 2010-11.

New rules introduced in the United States last year based high school graduation rates on whether students finish with a diploma in four years. The system only counts those who take five or six years to graduate if they are still learning English or have a disability.

– The Canadian Press

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