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How to End Streaming in Ontario Schools

May 2021

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Tianna Thompson

Tianna Thompson

Sam Andrey

Sam Andrey





Issue Statement

Academic streaming describes the process of dividing students into differentiated groups based on their perceived academic ability and/or prior achievement.1 While streaming happens both formally and informally across grade levels, entrance into secondary school in Ontario marks a more institutional effort to align students to courses of a particular academic difficulty (i.e., academic, applied and essential).

Research has shown that streaming has harmful and disadvantageous consequences for both individual students and education systems more broadly. Students streamed into non-academic courses experience depressed achievement2, delayed graduation3, and increased rates of drop-out.4 Stigma associated with applied placement has been shown to negatively affect students’ self-perception and academic performance.5 Students in Ontario with comparable past academic achievement perform significantly better in academic over applied courses.6 Coupled with a less engaging curriculum devoid of higher order thinking and reduced opportunities to learn7, teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic capabilities work as a self-fulfilling prophecy in which students internalize the low expectations set for them.8

The impacts of streaming become most salient in post-secondary pathways. Grade 9 students enrolled in lower-level courses rarely shift to higher tracks.9 10 Most students who take academic courses in Grades 9 transition into post-secondary preparatory courses in senior grades, and three-quarters directly transition to college or university. Students in the applied stream face significant barriers accessing post-secondary education and training, with less than one third directly transitioning to college and just 3% to university (See Figure 1).11 In essence, Ontario schools provide two tracks: one that channels students to higher education and another that more often leads to drop-outs and low-wage labour.

Figure 1: Post-Secondary Pathways for Ontario Students in Grade 9 Academic or Applied English and Math

Source: Ontario School Information System for Grade 9 students in 2010-11; graduation determined at five years as of 2014-15; direct post-secondary enrolment as of 2015-16 as reported by Ontario College Application Service and Ontario University Application Centre.

Streaming and its disproportionate impacts on people from racialized and low- income communities and those with special needs has been a point of contention for decades.12 Governments have engaged the calls for provincial de-streaming to varying degrees, although there has been no successfully implemented and sustained systemic reform.

In July 2020, Ontario’s Minister of Education announced the intention to eliminate academic streaming across Grade 9 math classrooms in the fall of 2021. Relatively little has yet been revealed publicly about the Ministry’s implementation plan for September or how de-streaming may expand beyond Grade 9 math, but Ontarians are counting on a smooth and successful transition for students and educators alike.

De-streaming can serve to provide full and equitable access to programs of study aligned with students’ interests and career aspirations — regardless of race, class, ability or language. However, ending streaming in schools effectively necessitates more than just combining students with varying educational needs into a single classroom. It requires:

  • a commitment to a long-term cultural and pedagogical shift informed by education and community stakeholders;
  • investment in sufficient supports and training for educators; and
  • ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure sustained success.

To read the full report, click here.


Segedin, Lauren. “Listening to the Student Voice: Understanding the School-Related Factors That Limit Student Success.” McGill Journal of Education 47, no. 1 (2012): 93–107.


People for Education. “Roadmaps and Roadblocks: Career and Life Planning, Guidance, and Streaming in Ontario’s Schools.” Toronto, ON: People for Education, 2019.


Parekh, Gillian. “Structured Pathways: An Exploration of Programs of Study, School-Wide and In-School Programs, as Well as Promotion and Transference across Secondary Schools in the Toronto District School Board.” Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Toronto District School Board, 2013.




Boaler, Jo, William Dylan, and Margaret Brown. “Students’ Experiences of Ability Grouping–Disaffection, Polarisation and the Construction of Failure.” British Educational Research Journal 26, no. 5 (December 2000): 631–48.


Education Quality and Accountability Office. “Ontario Student Achievement: Ontario’s Provincial Secondary School Report.” Toronto, ON: 2018.


Kinnon, Emily. “(In)Equity and Academic Streaming in Ontario: Effects on Students and Teachers and How to Overcome These.” Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, 2016.


Pichette, Jackie, Fiona Deller, and Julia Colyar. “Destreaming in Ontario: History, Evidence and Educator Reflections.” Toronto, ON: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, 2020.


Oakes, J. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. 2nd ed. Yale University Press, 2005.


People for Education. “Ontario’s Schools: The Gap Between Policy and Reality.” Toronto, ON, 2015.


Brown, R. S., and G. Tam. “Grade 9 Cohort Post-Secondary Pathways, 2011-2016.” Toronto, ON: Toronto District School Board, 2017. Pathways%202011-16%20FINAL.pdf.


Coalition for Alternatives to Streaming in Education.