Thursday, February 9, 2012

All students deserve high standards, choice

It was a treat when Ben came home Tuesday night with a course catalogue for choosing his courses for Grade 10.

He has to take math and science and history and English – what you’d expect as part of any education – but he also has some choice in non-academic courses like construction technology and drama. The courses are part of a well-thought out high-school curriculum designed by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

The reason this was a treat was that for three years we have lived in the world of ‘alternative expectations’ – read no expectations – at the segregated school Ben attended.

Alternative expectations are courses that are not tied to the Ontario curriculum and tend to focus on life skills. They include speech, social skills, personal care and transit training. At the high-school level, they are non-credit courses.

"For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade-level expectations,” reads The IEP – A Resource Guide from the Ministry. “A very small number of students who are unable to demonstrate even the most basic literacy or numeracy skills may receive only an alternative report."

Although Ben does read, and is now writing, for three years he received only alternative courses and an alternative report. In his last year the courses were things like art appreciation, gym, social skills (which was a cooking class) and ‘math’ – which involved tasks like putting flashlights together.

Four courses were offered per semester. They didn’t follow the general Ontario curriculum and my understanding is that they didn’t follow any Ministry-mandated content. It was up to the school to decide what it would offer.

The value of having a province-wide curriculum, I imagine, is that if students are taught the same material across schools, to meet one set of standards, you have a way of measuring progress and ensuring accountability.

I’m not sure why the same approach wouldn’t be taken with students with disabilities in segregated schools. Why would the same thought and energy not be put into developing a standard curriculum – ideally that draws on the general curriculum all students receive?

Why is it okay for students in these segregated high schools to have no Ontario-directed course content and no choice of courses and for students and parents to simply accept whatever learning is put forward in a particular class and school?

Last night I got to go through the standard credit high-school courses with Ben, in a document (above) aptly called: Life is the sum of all your choices.

Doesn’t it seem like there’s a double standard here?


Course selection is very exciting. I am glad you enjoyed that Louise.
Is Ben now following a standard highschool program towards a diploma?
I expect the reason there is not a standard curriculum is the cost of developing for a small number of students.
I have seen some good alternate curriculum in use in life skills programs. I would much rather my child have a great teacher who has the ability to offer locally developed units than having to teach a prescribed curriculum.
Covering the same content does not necessarily ensure the same education.

Hi -- thanks for your message. No, Ben won't get credit for the courses because he isn't able to work at the level needed. But at least he is exposed to the general curriculum.

At Ben's old school it seemed that they decided on an ad hoc basis what programs to offer. To me that doesn't ensure accountability for a quality education.

I think if there is going to be an alternate curriculum, it should be developed by the Ministry and there should be some choice in terms of courses, especially at the high school level (instead of simply being told your child is taking math, cooking, gym and art appreciation).

I realize that standardization doesn't solve all the problems. But the difference between actually having a course calendar to look through and descriptions of the courses -- vs. seeing nothing and having to 'ask' what your child is taking (whether you're happy with it or not), is huge.

Also, I believe the content should be drawn from the general curriculum and there are ways to adapt it.

i'm curious what ben thought of having this option to look through course descriptions...? hug

HI Louise,
The first school I taught adapted mainstream curriculum for our locally developed courses.
I think Ben's old school, while not atypical, is not the best example of alternate curriculum. I think, in fact, that TDSB is not a great model for inclusion, at least not for kids I know.
I can see why a ministry curriculum could be helpful, but from my experience I'd take a good teacher over a government document any day.

Hi Tekeal! Great to see you here!

I think Ben liked being consulted on the courses. In terms of non-academic, when I gave him a choice of ceramics (which he's taking now but isn't crazy about because of his sensory issues!), dance or drama, he immediately picked drama.

Does school start for Livia this September? You will have to keep us posted on developments! Hugs xo

Hi Anonymous -- It is wonderful to have your insights as a teacher!

I agree that the teacher makes all the difference.

I think adapting the general curriculum keeps students on a good path -- in his last school, when I questioned no IEP goals for reading, I was asked why he would need to read as an adult?

What classes have you taught? Are you teaching now? thanks again for writing! Louise

Some alternative expectations (not courses) should be part of a student's IEP, like social skills, depending on the profile of needs. What I wonder is who decided that your son would not be able to get high school credits. How will he graduate with his O.S.S.D. without high school credits? Is that no different than being in a segregated setting? Do you know if there are many other students at his school taking high school courses but not receiving credits for them? Is this common in your school board? Maybe being "exposed" to the general curriculum shouldn't be good enough. What about the school providing the necessary accommodations and modifications that will enable him to graduate with credits?
Co-op is a great high school course worth either 2 or 4 credits. Many kids take it in Grade 11 after having taken Careers. Hope Ben gets a chance to take it if he wants.

Hi -- Ben won't graduate with his high-school diploma. The board says they can't modify the curriculum to his level without compromising the integrity of the credit system for the other students.

My understanding is that in some states kids like Ben would receive a high school diploma based on modifications, while in other states, they wouldn't.

I'm not sure whether some boards in Ontario are more flexible on this or not. But ours is not.

The board has decided that he can't get credits. As is typical in our system, I believe I made the best choice of not great options -- at least he's in a regular high school and exposed to the general curriculum.

They wanted him to stay in the segregated school and foretold 'disaster' if I moved him.

The plan is that he will do a co-op.

Do you believe that every student -- regardless of degree of disability -- should receive a high-school diploma? This includes being able to pass the standardized math and math tests. What if the student can't?

I am told that the board is willing to modify to a certain degree (not very far!) and no further.

I feel there is an equity issue, but I also know that Ben can not produce work anywhere near grade level.

To be honest, at some you give up fighting.