Chapter 9: Student Achievement and Well-Being Curriculum and Programs

Like the society it serves, the school system is constantly evolving. In recent years many changes have been initiated through the provincial government’s focus on: supporting improved literacy and numeracy achievement from kindergarten through Grade 12; closing the gap so that every student learns, no matter their personal circumstances; improving student success and graduationrates in secondary schools; and building public confidence and support for our publicly funded education system. Recent research on Strong Districts and Their Leadership (Dr. Kenneth Leithwood, 2013) supports the premise that trustees have an essential role in supporting studentachievement and well-being through policy development, resource alignment and ensuring continued focus on the needs of children and students.

The following policy and program documents are key to supporting the work of trustees, school and system leaders, and teachers in their efforts to ensure that an Ontario education continues to rank among the best in the world.

Schools, Kindergarten to Grade 12, 2011 (OS) sets out the requirements of the Ministry of Education that governs the policies and programs of all publicly funded elementary and secondary schools. It is available at:

Creating Pathways to Success (CPS – released September, 2013) describes a comprehensive education and career/life planning program for students from kindergarten to Grade 12. The Education and Career/Life Planning Program for Elementary and Secondary School Students (K-12) helps students develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices for their education, career and life outside school. Students learn more about themselves and their opportunities, set goals and make plans to achieve them. Kindergarten to Grade 6 students record their learning in an “All About Me” portfolio. Beginning in Grade 7 and onwards, students record their learning in a web-based Individual Pathways Plan (IPP). The document is available at:

Curriculum Review

The 2003/2004 school year saw the beginning of a comprehensive multi-year curriculum review cycle. Curriculum review is not a development of a completely new curriculum, but is intended to ensure that the curriculum remains current and relevant and is developmentally appropriate from kindergarten to grade 12. A number of subject disciplines enter the review process each year. The review supports students, educators, schools and boards by identifying targeted areas that need to be improved and updated; it also allows lead time for development of related support materials that may be needed.

Curriculum review and development, implementation, and evaluation is a team effort. It involves the Ministry of Education and writing teams of subject-expert educators from boards throughout the province. The process also entails research and wide-ranging consultation with educational, community, and private sector partners.

This cycle of curriculum review is nearing completion in 2014 and the Ministry will develop plans for the next phase of the curriculum renewal process. Finalized plans will be communicated to schools and school boards.

The most recent cycle of curriculum review has enabled the Ministry, school boards, and schools to consolidate their ongoing initiatives and other emerging education policy work. This includes environmental education, financial literacy, inclusive/equity education, early learning, and the assessment, evaluation and reporting policy (including revised student report cards) set out in Growing Success. (

The Curriculum Council

The Curriculum Council provides high level strategic policy advice to the Minister on issues affecting the elementary and secondary curriculum. This body was established in 2007. The Council’s advice is intended to enhance, not replace, the curriculum review process. The first major issue considered by the council was environmental education. More recently the issues under consideration have included the “crowded” elementary curriculum, financial literacy education, and ways to strengthen equity and inclusive education principles and bullying prevention strategies.

Full-Day Kindergarten

The Education Act requires that children be enrolled in a school program as of six years of age. The Act also requires boards to offer full-day kindergarten programs for four- and five-year-olds. The implementation of full-day kindergarten began in 2010 and has been phased in gradually over five years with full implementation across the province achieved by September, 2014. A majority of parents – approximately 95 per cent – send their children to publicly funded schools for kindergarten.

The full-day kindergarten program is staffed by an educator team of a teacher and an early childhood educator (ECE). This team is guided by a curriculum document based on Ontario’s kindergarten curriculum as well as research and other early learning curricula. Through play-based learning and small group instruction, children develop a strong foundation for learning in all areas, including language and math, engage in healthy physical activities and the arts, and develop socially and emotionally through interaction with their peers and the educators who guide them. Throughinformal meetings, parent conferences or written reports, parents receive regular updates that include comments on the child’s learning. The reports also include suggestions for parents to support their child’s learning.

The draft curriculum document which was released in the spring of 2010 will be revised to incorporate findings and knowledge from the first three years of full-day kinder-garten implementation. It is available at:

The finalized Kindergarten Program document will be posted on the Ministry website when it is ready for release.

Full-day kindergarten is complementedby a fee-based before and after school program for four- and five-year olds which boards are required to offer where there is sufficient demand. These programs can be directly operated by the school board or delivered through a third party.

Child Care and Early Years Programs and Services

The Ontario Early Years Policy Framework sets out a vision for a high-quality increasingly integrated system of child care and early years programs and services that are responsive to the needs of children and families. As service system managers, municipalities manage the provision of child care services locally. Currently, licensed child care programs must meet and maintain specific provincial standards as set out in the Day Nurseries Act (DNA). These standards provide for the health, safety and developmental needs of the children. Many child care centres and programs serving younger children are located in public schools. Child Care and early years programs are greatly affected by school policies such as rent and shared use of space. By working together, school boards, municipal-ities, and service providers can ensure a consistent, high quality educational experience for children and their families as they transition between child care and early years services and as they enter and progress through school.

To learn more about child care in Ontario, please visit:

Elementary Education

The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1 to 8, outlines the knowledge and skills that students must demonstrate at the end of each grade in each subject. Curriculum policy documents from the Ministry of Education describe the overall and specific learning expectations for students in grades 1 to 8 in the following areas (See Note 7):

  • The Arts
  • French (First Language)
  • French as a Second Language
  • Health and Physical Education
  • Mathematics
  • Native Languages
  • Science and Technology
  • Social Studies / History and Geography

Additionally, the Catholic systems have policy documents on Religious Education. (See “Religion in Catholic Schools” later in this chapter.)

Daily Physical Activity Requirement

School boards must ensure that all elementary students, including students with special needs, have a minimum of twenty minutes of sustained moderate to vigorous physical activity each school day during instructional time. (See Policy/Program Memorandum 138 (Daily Physical Activity in Elementary Schools, Grades 1-8)

Additional information is available at:

Secondary Education

Requirements for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma

Students are required to complete diploma requirements as they are described in Ontario Schools, Kindergarten to Grade 12, Policy and Program Requirements, 2011.

In order to be awarded the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), students are required to:

  • complete 30 credits (18 compulsory and 12 optional) of 110 hours each;

  • successfully complete the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (or the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course); and

  • complete 40 hours of community involvement activities.

Students who leave school before earning the OSSD may be granted the Ontario Secondary School Certificate, provided that they have earned the following credits:

  • 2 credits in English,
  • 1 credit in Canadian geography or Canadian history,
  • 1 credit in mathematics,
  • 1 credit in science,
  • 1 credit in health and physical education,
  • 1 credit in the arts or technological education, and
  • 7 credits selected by the student from available courses.
Compulsory and Optional Credits

Students must earn the following credits in order to obtain the Ontario Secondary School Diploma:

18 Compulsory Credits

  • 4 English (1 credit per grade)
  • 1 French as a Second Language
  • 3 Mathematics (at least 1 credit in Grade 11 or 12)
  • 2 Science
  • 1 Arts
  • 1 Canadian geography
  • 1 Canadian history
  • 1 Health and physical education
  • 0.5 Civics
  • 0.5 Career studies


  • 3 additional credits, consisting of 1 credit from each of the following groups:
    • Group 1: English, French as a Second Language, classical languages, international languages, Native languages, Native studies, Canadian and world studies, social sciences and humanities, guidance and career education, cooperative education
    • Group 2: French as a Second Language, business studies, health and physical education, the arts, and cooperative education
    • Group 3: French as a Second Language, science (Grade 11 or 12), computer studies, technological education, cooperative education.

12 Optional Credits

These are selected from the courses available in the school’s course calendar.

For secondary students in Catholic schools up to 4 credits in religious education may be required. This is determined by board policy.

Organization of Courses

All schools must offer a sufficient number of courses and appropriate types of courses to enable students to meet the diploma requirements.

In Grades 9 and 10, course types available are academic, applied and open. Academic courses develop students' knowledge and skills through the study of theory and abstract problems. Applied programs focus on the essential concepts of a subject and develop students' knowledge and skills through practical applications and concrete examples. Open courses, which comprise a set of expectations that are appropriate for all students, are designed to broaden students' knowledge and skills in subjects that reflect their interests and prepare them for active and rewarding participation in society. Locally developed compulsory credit courses in English, mathematics, science, French as a Second Language and Canadian history that can be counted as a compulsory credit in that discipline are also available to students in Grades 9 and 10.

Students in Grades 11 and 12 may choose from five course types or pathways, four of which may be used for post-secondary destinations (apprenticeship training, college, university, or the workplace) and a range of open courses across various disciplines.

Some students may change their educational goals as they proceed through secondary school. When they decide to embark on a new pathway, they may find that they have not completed all of the prerequisite courses they need. Schools must make provisions to allow students to change pathways and must describe these provisions in their school’s program/course calendar.

Student Success/Learning to 18 Strategy

Ontario’s Student Success Strategy first described in the document Reach Every Student was reinforced and further defined in the 2008 issue subtitled Energizing Ontario Education. ( The strategy is based on the belief that every student deserves a good outcome from his or her education and that the outcome should:

  • be the best fit possible with each student’s potential;
  • instill willingness and capacity for further learning; and
  • have a core of common knowledge, skills and values.

Reach Every Student is based on the government’s three core priorities for education:

  1. high levels of achievement
  2. reducing gaps in student achievement
  3. increasing public confidence in education

In April 2014, the Ministry of Education released Achieving Excellence: A renewed vision for Education in Ontario ( Building on the three core priorities, the renewed goals for education are:

  1. Achieving Excellence
  2. Ensuring Equity
  3. Promoting Well-being
  4. Enhancing Public Confidence

This vision will require a review of a number of Ministry curriculum program policy documents including Growing Success. Emphasizing the goal of “promoting well-being” is significant and aligns with the expectation that trustees are responsible for both student achievement and student well-being as stipulated in the Student Achievement and School Board Governance Act, 2009

Student Success strategies include relevant and innovative programs designed to address the wide variety of individual learning needs and prepare students for the post-secondary pathway of their choice: apprenticeship training, college, university, or the workplace.

  • Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) is a ministry-approved specialized program that allows students to focus their learning on a specific economic sector while meeting the require-ments for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and assists in their transition from secondary school to apprentice-ship training, college, university, or the workplace.
  • Expansion of Cooperative Education allows more students, including adult students to earn secondary school credits while completing a work placement in the community. This program helps students make connections between school and work and to try out a career of interest before finalizing plans for post-secondary education, training or employment. Schools and boards have been expanding their co-op programs to meet the increased demand for these opportunities from students and their parents.
  • Dual Credit programs allow students who are not achieving at their potential and are becoming disengaged to participate in postsecondary courses and apprenticeship training. With these options they can earn credits that count towards their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) and their postsecondary diploma, degree or apprentice-ship certification. These programs are designed to attract and retain senior students who face the greatest challenges in graduating.
  • The Differentiated Instruction Professional Learning Strategy is intended to build the instructional knowledge and skills of Grades 7-12 educators to meet the diverse needs of all students. Differentiated Instruction (DI) is effective instruction that is responsive to the unique learning preferences, interests and readiness of the individual learner. Incorporating a differentiated approach enables teachers to provide the appropriate levels of challenge and support to increase student engagement and achievement. The professional learning strategy places differentiation within a framework of effective instruction that includes assessment and evaluation practices, instructional strategies, a positive and nurturing learning environment, and an engaging program based on key expectations as outlined in the Ontario curriculum.
  • The Student Success Team is an initiative in every secondary school and is comprised of the principal, a student success teacher and other teachers in areas such as guidance and special education, as well as support staff. This team provides support to all students to ensure successful completion of their diploma requirements. In addition, special attention is provided to students whose profile including academic performance has indicated that they may be “at risk” of not graduating.
  • The Student Success Leader (SSL) works regionally with other SSLs and with Ministry staff to support Student Success initiatives and strategies, facilitates networking, and assists in maintaining the board’s focus on the province’s core priorities for education. The SSL reports directly to the Director of Education.
  • A Student Success Teacher is appointed in every secondary school to provide direct support for students and to coordinate the school’s Student Success initiatives.
  • Transition is a strategy focused on “Being, Belonging and Becoming” aimed at providing protective supports at the school level to ensure a smooth educational transition for students. Intervention and prevention approaches include: individualized schedules, a caring adult, and cross panel (elementary to secondary) support that incorporates tracking and monitoring. The intent of this strategy is to:
    • Support the individual needs of students as they move from elementary school to secondary school, especially those students who may be at risk of leaving school before graduation;
    • Assist secondary schools in creating a welcoming and caring environment for all students, with particular attention to those students new to the school, New Canadians, English Language Learners, First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners, and students transitioning from grade to grade, school to school, and program to program.
  • Student Voice Initiative provides opportunities for students to be partners in decisions impacting their educational experience. Students are encouraged to become more engaged in their learning through:
    • student led SpeakUp Projects to help improve their learning community;
    • regional Student Forums and Students as Researchers teams that empower students to examine issues related to student engagement and achievement; and
    • the Minister’s Student Advisory Council (MSAC), a group of students appointed annually to provide advice on policy and practice to the Minister of Education.
  • The Education and Career/Life Planning program, which includes the use of the Individual Pathways Plan (IPP), involves preparing students for key transitions including the transition from elementary to secondary school and from secondary school to their initial postsecondary destination.

    In Grade 8 students record evidence of their learning in the education and career/life planning program which supports their secondary school course selections, setting goals for community involvement, and identifying areas of interest for extracurricular activities and leadership opportunities.

    Grade 10 students record in their IPP their initial post-secondary destination, their postsecondary goals or plans, a detailed plan, with appropriate strategies to complete the courses and experiences required to achieve their goals.

  • Re-Engagement (12 & 12+) provides funding for boards to temporarily hire or to provide release time for staff, to contact and mentor those students who are able to graduate within the year but who are not enrolled in school, or are not attending school.

Literacy and Numeracy Strategy – K-12

The Ontario government identifies literacy and numeracy skills as one of its key educational priorities. The government believes that every student in the province should be able to read, write, do math and comprehend at a high level. The government’s Literacy and Numeracy Strategy spans Kindergarten through Grade 12. It includes a focus on teacher and leadership, professional learning, research and evaluation, and investing in new resources, strategies and supports. The government set a target to have 75 per cent of Grades 3 and 6 students reach the provincial standard (equivalent to a B grade) on province-wide reading, writing and math assessments, and a target of 85 per cent in secondary school graduation rates.

The Literacy and Numeracy Strategy involves a variety of approaches including:

  • Building capacity in partnership with district school boards to support student learning and achievement;
  • Allocating resources to support goal setting and improvement plans;
  • Engaging in research and evidence-based inquiry and decision-making and modelling this commitment across the education system; and
  • Engaging at a national and international level to learn from and contribute to the knowledge base about how to improve literacy and numeracy achievement.

The following components are essential elements of student achievement (K-12) and are aligned with the school board’s strategic plan:

  • The Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement (BIPSA) process supports improved learning and well-being for all students. BIPSA is an annual operational plan that sets out the steps that will be taken toward achieving the Board’s multi-year strategic direction for student achievement. It is based on the analysis of a comprehensive needs assessment which is informed by School Improvement Plans and School Effectiveness Processes. The BIPSA process supports a culture of reflective practice (thinking and doing) – a systematic change that is based on a relationship of openness and trust. This process includes:
    • Decisions/actions informed by evidence from practice, research and assessment of student need
    • Collaborative inquiry used to continually refine instructional leadership practice
    • Goals and processes that reflect greater coherence
    • Analysis of student data to inform evaluation and ongoing revision.

The purpose of a Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement is to:

  • Set specific student achievement goals on an annual basis
  • Improve achievement for each student in the Board
  • Provide a tracking and monitoring plan for improving student achievement
  • Provide an evaluation of the Board’s progress in meeting their goals.

The ultimate goal of the Board Improvement Plan is a successful outcome for every student. A foundational expectation is that every student, educator, school and board can learn and achieve success.

  • The School Effectiveness Framework (SEF K-12) supports educators in their ongoing pursuit of improved student achievement and well-being. It offers a self-assessment planning tool for school teams and serves to:
    • help educators identify areas of strength, areas requiring improvement and next steps.
    • act as a catalyst for shared instructional leadership focussed on high levels of student learning and achievement.
    • promote inquiry focused on student learning, achievement and well-being that informs goals and effective teaching and learning practices/strategies.
    • support educators in determining explicit, intentional and precise planning decisions which contribute to continuous improvement in student learning, achievement and well-being.
    • maintain communication with stakeholders to foster increased public confidence in school effectiveness
    • build coherence in and across schools and school boards.

Students are the central focus of the School Effectiveness Framework and high expectations for their learning and well-being are paramount. It identifies practices that aim to reach every student and remove discriminatory biases and systemic barriers. It enables school teams to integrate ministry initiatives and policies to enhance growth in student achievement, engagement and well-being. The framework provides a focus for the work of the system and school leadership groups to share and develop processes for collaborative goal setting, distributed leadership and shared accountability within school improvement teams. For the purposes of evaluating this strategy, school districts are asked to provide evidence of the impact of this work on system improvement and school improvement efforts.

  • The K-12 System Implementation and Monitoring (SIM K-12) team is identified by each school board to support the work of School Improvement Teams as they work within networks of schools to improve instructional effectiveness and pedagogy and to further develop instructional leadership. The teams commit to implementing the Board Improvement Plan thus connecting the work of the board as a whole with all schools and classrooms. This work develops capacity to:

    • observe, describe and analyze student work
    • set specific goals and targets for student learning
    • plan and implement specific teaching and learning strategies
    • monitor student achievement results and adjust strategies as needed
    • support the professional learning required to raise achievement
    • align resources to meet achievement goals
    • engage students and parents in school improvement
  • Collaborative Inquiry Initiatives: Teacher collaborative inquiry into instructional and assessment practice is the foundation of many of the initiatives funded by the Student Achievement Division and is key to improve- ments in literacy and numeracy. Through professional collaborativeinquiry, teacher teams determine an area of study related to the needs of their students and may co-plan, co-teach, and co-assess to gain deep understanding of how to support their students. Principals, district-level leaders and experts in subject-specific curriculum content, differentiated instruction, assessment and evaluation may also participate as learners in these inquiries. The process allows teachers to focus instructional practice on improving student achievement through targeted teaching strategies based on student needs. The implementation of a professional learning cycle as a means of job-embedded learning builds capacity for teachers and leaders that is focused on classroom instruction and assessment.

Student Assessment and Report Cards

The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning. The Growing Success (2010) document contains the policies and practices that describe assessment, evaluation and reporting in Ontario schools. (

This document supersedes all prior Ministry documents on assessment and evaluation. An exception is the achievement charts that are contained within current Ontario curriculum documents; these remain in effect. Growing Success has identified seven fundamental principles. To ensure that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students, teachers use practices and procedures that:

  • are fair, transparent and equitable for all students;
  • support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Métis, or Inuit;
  • are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs and experiences of all students;
  • are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course;
  • are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning;
  • provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful and timely to support improved learning and achievement;
  • develop students' self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals and plan next steps for their learning.

The achievement charts in the provincial curriculum are used to evaluate how well students are achieving in relation to the overall curriculum expectations and these areas of achievement are reported on regularly. Standards of achievement are defined for each subject at four levels for four categories of learning: knowledge and understanding, thinking and investigation, communication, and application. In addition, the elementary progress report card and elementary and secondary provincial report cards provide a record of the learning skills and work habits demonstrated by students in the following six categories: responsibility, organization, independent work, collaboration, initiative and self-regulation.

The achievement of elementary students is assessed regularly by teachers and a report is sent home to parents three times a year. This takes the form of an elementary progress report card between October 20 and November 20 followed by one provincial report card between January 20 and February 20 and a final report card towards the end of June of each school year. For grades 1 to 6, teachers report student achievement using letter grades; for grades 7-8, teachers report by assigning percentage grades (0% - 100%).

The achievement of secondary students is also assessed regularly by teachers and a report is sent home to parents three times a year for non-semestered schools and twice per semester for semestered schools. Teachers indicate on the report card the level at which the student is achieving for each course by assigning percentage grades (0% - 100%).

In both the elementary and secondary panels a specifically designed standardized provincial report card is used for Grades 1 to 6, Grades 7 and 8 and Grades 9 to 12 and can be customized only in specific sections for school boards. There is also a version for use in Catholic schools that includes a section called Religious and Family Life Education.

The Growing Success document contains the requirements for assessment and reporting practices that are to be reflected in school board policies and practices. In addition boards should use the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy to guide policy reviews to ensure that practices are free of systemic bias related to how students' work is assessed and evaluated.

Province-Wide Testing

In 1995, the province created the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), an arms-length agency responsible for increasing accountability and promoting improvement in Ontario’s education system. EQAO’s mandate is to “enhance the quality and accountability of the education system in Ontario and to work with the education community. This is achieved through student assessments that produce objective, reliable information, through the public release of this information and through the profiling of the value and use of EQAO data across the province.”

EQAO develops, conducts and marks province-wide tests for all students in grades 3, 6, 9 as well as the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) which is administered in Grade 10. EQAO reports the test results in two ways:

  • individual student results, and
  • school-wide, board-wide, and province-wide results, which are shared openly with the public to promote accountability in the education system.

These test results, along with other assessment tools used locally, help the school and the board to review the effectiveness of their programs and set priorities for the future. Boards are required to assess their test results and to implement measures to support the improve-ment of student achievement. School boards are required to consult with school councils in the development of board action plans for improvement based on the EQAO test results. Principals are also required to consult with the school council in the development of school action plans for improvement based on the EQAO test results.

There is an accommodation policy for students with special education needs.

Teachers and administrators receive training support from the EQAO, along with a package of sample performance tasks. Samples and supporting information are also available on the EQAO website at Information for parents and students is also available on the website.

The EQAO individual school and board results are used to inform board-wide and school-based planning and practices in order to maximize the opportunities for success for all students.

EQAO Testing in Elementary Schools

The Grade 3 and Grade 6 Assessments of Reading, Writing and Mathematics are based on the reading, writing and mathematics expectations in the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8. These assessments provide both individual, school and system data on students' achievement. The EQAO assessments require each student to demonstrate his/her skills and knowledge of reading, writing and math.

The tests are administered in the late spring and school boards receive the system results for each year’s elementary school assessments in August/September. Parents receive individual reports on their child’s achievement in September/October.

EQAO Testing in Secondary Schools

In cooperation with EQAO, school boards administer two annual tests to secondary students:

  • The Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics is an assessment designed to measure student achievement of grade 9 mathematics expectations for the applied and academic courses. It provides valuable data for student improvement and program implementation. Teachers have the option of including the marks with students' report card grades. The testing is conducted in January for students enrolled in a first-semester course, and near year-end for students studying in a full-year course or second-semester course.
  • The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), written in grade 10, is designed to assess the reading and writing skills that students are expected to have learned across all subjects by the end of grade 9, as outlined in the Ontario Curriculum. Students are assigned a pass or fail rating, not a score. Those who pass receive notification of success only. Those who fail receive a performance profile to guide their remedial work. The OSSLT is the standard method for students to obtain the graduation literacy requirement for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). All schools must provide students who fail the OSSLT with opportunities to receive remedial help and to repeat the test. Students who are unsuccessful may choose to take the grade 11 Literacy course as a form of remedial follow-up. Students who fail the test may also enroll in the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course (OSSLC). Students who pass the OSSLC will have met the graduation requirement. The OSSLC is a full credit course.

National and International Tests

Ontario also participates in several national and international standardized tests. These tests are administered to random samples of students and the results provide an indication of the strengths and weaknesses of Ontario’s education system when compared with many other jurisdictions around the world and across Canada.

  • There are various International tests, such as the Trends International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS); these are conducted through the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test is conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
  • The Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) conducted through the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) tests random samples of students in reading, mathematics and science. It was administered for the first time in 2007 and replaced the previous Canada-wide School Achievement Indicators Program (SAIP).

Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy

The 2012 report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools ( indicates that “the highest performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity. Equity in education means that personal or social circumstances such as gender, ethnic origin or family background, are not obstacles to achieving educational potential (fairness) and that that all individuals reach at least a basic minimum level of skills (inclusion). In these education systems, the vast majority of students have the opportunity to attain high level skills, regardless of their own personal and socio-economic circumstances.”

Students who feel welcome and connected to school stay engaged and are more likely to succeed. In an increasingly diverse Ontario, this means fostering positive learning environments that support all students to feel respected and included, and in which they see themselves reflected. Research and experience also tell us that student achievement will improve when barriers that limit a student’s prospects for learning, growing and fully contributing to society are identified and removed.

Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy aims to help the education community identify and remove discriminatory biases and systemic barriers in order to support student achievement and well-being. In particular, it seeks to close achievement gaps and aims to support students who may be at risk of not succeeding. Factors such as race, gender and socio-economic status should not prevent students from reaching their full potential. By helping to create the conditions needed for student success, the strategy sets out a vision where every student is supported and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning:

“The strategy recognizes our province’s growing diversity as a strength. It aims to promote inclusive education, as well as to understand, identify, and eliminate the biases, barriers, and power dynamics that limit our students' prospects for learning, growing, and fully contributing to society….Systemic barriers may be related to the following dimensions of diversity and/or their intersection: ancestry, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, language, physical ability, intellectual ability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and others. Our equity and inclusive education strategy reaffirms the values of fairness, equity, and respect as essential principles of our publicly funded education system.” (Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, 2009)

Parent and community engagement, and character development are essential components of the strategy. Student achievement improves when parents play an active role in their children’s learning. Good schools become even better schools when parents are involved. Character develop-ment forms the basis of our relationships and of responsible citizenship. The strategy supports a foundation for excellence and equity in education and school communities that are respectful, safe, caring and inclusive.

In accordance with the Education Act, school boards are required to develop and implement an equity and inclusive education policy. School boards are also required to have a religious accommodation guideline in place.

At the Ministry level, revised curriculum policy documents include a section on equity and inclusive education and how it relates to the particular subject; curriculum is checked for bias and for how it represents principles of equity and inclusive education. Achieving an equitable and inclusive education system requires a whole-school approach with everyone – trustees and school and system leaders, parents, students, teachers, and the community – working together to support the achievement and well-being of all students.

First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education

The Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework provides the strategic policy context within which the Ministry of Education, school boards, and schools work together to support success for Aboriginal students. The Framework clarifies the roles and relationships among the ministry, school boards, and provincially funded elementary and secondary schools in supporting First Nation, Métis and Inuit students to achieve their educational goals. Aboriginal education is a key priority for the ministry and there is a strong focus on reaching two primary objectives by the year 2016 – to improve achievement among First Nation, Métis and Inuit students and to close the achievement gap between Aboriginal students and all students.

The vision for the Framework states:

“First Nation, Métis and Inuit students in Ontario will have the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to successfully complete their elementary and secondary education in order to pursue postsecondary education or training and/or to enter the workforce. They will have the traditional and contemporary knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to be socially contributive, politically active, and economically prosperous citizens of the world. All students in Ontario will have the knowledge and appreciation of contemporary and traditional First Nation, Métis and Inuit traditions, cultures, and perspectives.”

The introduction to the Framework states that: “It is essential that First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students are engaged and feel welcome in school, and that they see themselves and their cultures in the curriculum and the school community.” It calls for increased awareness and knowledge among teachers and other board staff with regard to learning styles of Aboriginal students, and an understanding within schools and school boards of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, histories, and perspectives.

Since it was released in 2007, intensive and successful efforts, supported by Ministry funding, have been made in school boards across the province to move towards realization of the objectives of the policy framework. Targeted supports for students and educators have been enhanced through collaborative initiatives. Knowledge and awareness of First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures, histories, traditions, and perspectives have increased throughout Ontario schools.

Progress reports on the Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework are issued every three years. In March, 2014 the ministry released an implementation plan that identifies strategies and actions to support ministry and school board implementation of the Framework for 2013 through 2016.

Voluntary, confidential Aboriginal student self-identification within the provincially funded school system also continues to be a key priority. The implementation plan identified the need to continue efforts to enhance the analysis, use, and sharing of self-identification data to track Aboriginal student achievement, develop strategies that build on successes achieved, and identify effective practices to reduce achievement gaps.

School boards and the ministry continue to recognize the importance of meaningful collaboration with First Nation, Métis and Inuit partners in the shared goal of improving student achievement and well-being First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners.

The First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Supplement

Ontario’s Grants for Student Needs includes the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Supplement to support programs designed for Aboriginal students and to enhance the knowledge and awareness of First Nation, Métis and Inuit histories,cultures, traditions and perspectives for all students.

The First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Supplement has three components:

Native Languages Allocation

  • This allocation supports the elementary and secondary Native Language programs. For the elementary panel, the funding is based on the number of pupils enrolled and the average daily length of the program offered in any of the seven Native Languages in the Ontario curriculum. For the secondary panel, the funding is established according to credits.

Native Studies Allocation

  • This funding is for Native Studies courses for secondary students and is based on an allocation per-pupil credit.

Per-Pupil Amount Allocation

  • The formula for this allocation uses an estimated percentage of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit population in a board based on 2006 Census data. A weighting factor is applied to direct more funding to boards with a higher estimated proportion of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students.

Annual funding is also provided outside the GSN to support the implementation of the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework.

This investment will support boards as they implement strategiesand actions identified in the Ontario First Nation, Métis and Inuit Education Policy Framework Implementation Plan (2014).

Religion in Public Schools

The ministry supports the inclusion of multi-faith content in the public elementary and secondary school curriculum for educational purposes. District school boards can provide programs in elementary schools in which religion is the focus for up to 60 minutes of instructional time per week. The ministry’s resource guide, Educating About Religion in Ontario Public Elementary Schools, suggests that the process for developing courses should include consultation with teachers, students, parents and guardians, and other community members; boards are also encouraged to form advisory committees. Students in secondary schools can currently earn credits by completing world religion courses developed using the Grade 11 and 12 social sciences and humanities curriculum policy document.

Public schools may not indoctrinate students in or give primacy to any particular religion. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in 1988 that opening and closing exercises in public schools that give primacy to a particular faith are unconstitutional. The same court ruled two years later that indoctrination in any one religion in public schools is also unconstitutional.

In 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada made a ruling that religious alternative schools are not constitutionally entitled to grants through the publicly funded system.

Religion in Catholic Schools

Catholic district school boards are responsible for:

  • developing their own Religious Education and Family Life Education programs;
  • infusing Catholicity across the curriculum; and
  • developing the faith of their students.

It is important to understand these concepts and the differences among them.

Religious Education

Religious Education refers to the more formal academic study of religion. It is organized into courses of study appropriate to the student’s age and maturity. Like other school subjects, it is open to teaching methodologies that range from the experiential and child-centred to more teacher-centred approaches. It encompasses subject matter such as gospel studies, liturgy, Church history, and the culture and heritage of Catholicism. Students in Catholic schools must take Religious Education courses. Up to four of these courses may be used to meet the credit requirements for the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).

Family Life Education

Students in Catholic schools also receive education in family life. Ethics, sex education, marriage, the role of the Christian family in the modern world, and the social teachings of the Catholic Church are the central issues addressed in family life education.

Catholicity Across the Curriculum

Central to the concept of Catholic education is the conviction that all subjects and disciplines provide constant opportunities for learning about faith and its meaning in contemporary society. The essence of Catholic education is found not only in distinct subjects such as Religion and Family Life but also in the total learning environment which creates a community that passes on the values and virtues of the Catholic tradition.

Faith Development

Faith development relates to the Catholic community’s approach to life. It focuses on issues of commitment, value judgement, and interaction among people. In experiencing the interaction between the school and the broader community, students see the expectations of Catholic social teaching in action.

Positive School Climate

In recent years there have been a number of legislative changes and Ministry policy memoranda which stipulated requirements for school boards to review and implement policies and procedures to create positive school climates for learning and working for students and staff. The research identifies a very clear link between student achievement and school climate where students and staff are feeling included, valued, respected and safe.

Programs and activities integrated within the Ontario curriculum and integral to the fabric of a school are essential in a prevention and intervention strategy approach to support students in developing positive behaviours. Some examples of these programs are character development, anti-bullying, positive space, mentorship and peer leadership.

See Chapter 6: Legal Responsibilities and Liabilities for more on school boards' obligations in this area. For more information on the ministry’s policy directives, see: Bullying Prevention and Intervention (PPM 144)

Progressive Discipline and PromotingPositive Student Behaviour (PPM145)

Special Education

Every school board is required by the Education Act to provide special education programs and services for its exceptional students. An exceptional student is defined in the Act as “a pupil whose behavioural, communication, intellectual, physical or multiple exceptionalities are such that he or she is considered to need a placement in a special education program by a committee …of the board.”

A school board must detail, in its Special Education Report (referred to in Regulation 306 as the Special Education Plan), how the school board will meet the special education needs of students with exceptionalities. The programs or services required to facilitate learning by a student with exceptionalities will vary depending on the strengths and needs of the student. Each school board determines the range of special education programs and services required to meet the needs of its students with exceptionalities, and, as set out in Regulation 306 (Special Education Programs and Services), must describe these in its Special Education Report. Each school board’s Special Education Report must be current at the beginning of each school year and must be available at the school board’s office for review by the public. A school board may provide its own special education programs and services, or it may purchase them from another school board.

Special Education Advisory Committee

Every school board must have a Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) that monitors the board’s special education programs, services, and plans. Details of this requirement are set out in Ontario Regulation 464/97, made under the Education Act.

The SEAC is composed of represent-atives of local associations, members of the school board, and, in specific cases, other members of the community. (See Note 8) Each local association that meets the criteria should be invited to participate in the SEAC, up to a maximum of 12 representatives. A new SEAC is formed every four years following the election of the board of trustees.

The board must appoint three trustees or 25 per cent of the total number of trustees on the board (rounded down) whichever is fewer. Where the regulations require a school board to have one or more First Nation representatives, its SEAC must also have one or two First Nation members to represent the interests of First Nation students.

The SEAC must meet at least ten times in each school year. It is mandated to make recommend-ations for establishing, developing, and delivering special education programs offered by the school board. The board must give the SEAC an opportunity to be heard before making any decisions on SEAC recommendations. Further, the board must ensure that the SEAC has an opportunity to participate in the review of the board’s Special Education Report, and be consulted on the Board Improvement Plan for Student Achievement (BIP) process. The SEAC also has the opportunity to review the board’s annual budget process, and financial statements. More information is available at:

Identification and Placement of Students with Exceptionalities

The identification and placement of students with exceptionalities is governed by Ontario Regulation 181/98. Students with exceptionalities are identified by special education Identification, Placement and Review Committees (IPRCs). Every school board must establish at least one IPRC. Each IPRC must be made up of at least three individuals and at least one of these must be a principal or a supervisory officer. Trustees may not be IPRC members.

The IPRC is mandated to collect information about a student who has been referred to the committee. This information must include an educational assessment and may also include a psychological assessment and/or a medical assessment if these are deemed appropriate by the committee and if the parents (and the student, if 16 or over) approve.The parents and the student (if 16 or over) have the right to participate in all IPRC discussions about the student, be present when the IPRC makes its decision, and bring an advocate to help them.

The IPRC’s written decision must indicate the following:

  • whether the student has been identified as exceptional and, if so, the categories and definitions of any exceptionalities;
  • a description of the student’s strengths and needs;
  • the placement decision; and
  • any recommendations regarding special education services and programs.

The needs of the vast majority of students with exceptionalities can be addressed in a regular classroom with the help of instructional, environmental, and/or assessment accommodations or some curriculum modification or both. Ontario Regulation 181/98 states that before considering the option of placement in a special education class, an IPRC must first consider whether placement in a regular class, with appropriate special education services, would meet the student’s needs and be consistent with parental preferences. Placement options that may be considered include: regular classroom with indirect support, regular classroom with resource assistance, regular classroom with withdrawal assistance, special education class with partial integration, and special education class full time. If the IPRC has decided that the student should be placed in a special education class, the decision must state the reasons.

In some instances, a student may need to attend a provincial school for the deaf, blind, or deafblind, or a provincial demonstration school for students with severe learning disabilities.

The identification and placement of a student who has been identified and placed by an IPRC must be reviewed at least annually by the IPRC, although parents may provide a written statement to waive the IPRC review. Also, the IPRC must review the placement if the parents make this request to the school principal any time after the placement has been in effect for three months.

Parents who disagree with the IPRC’s decision may:

  • within 15 days of receiving notice of the decision, request a follow-up meeting with the IPRC to discuss the decision, or
  • within 30 days of receiving notice of the decision, file a notice of appeal with the Special Education Appeal Board.

Parents who remain dissatisfied after the follow-up meeting may also, within 15 days of receiving notice of the reviewed decision, file a notice of appeal. Many parents may agree to a resolution of the dispute through mediation before proceeding with an appeal.

The special education placement decision may be implemented if one of the following applies:

  • the parent has consented in writing;
  • the parent has failed to initiate the appeal process within the specified time period following the IPRC decision or the Special Education Appeal Board process;

  • the parent has appealed to the Special Education Tribunal but subsequently abandoned the appeal; or

  • the Special Education Tribunal has directed the board to place the student.

Pending an IPRC meeting and decision, a student is entitled to an appropriate education program. This program must be appropriate to the student’s apparent strengths and needs, must include education services to meet the student’s apparent needs, and must be in a regular class if this meets the student’s needs and is consistent with the preferences of the parents.

The broad categories of exceptionalities set out in the Education Act [ss1(1)](Behaviour, Communication, Intellectual, Physical and Multiple) are designed to address the wide range of conditions that may affect a student’s ability to learn. They do not exclude any medical condition, whether diagnosed or not, that can lead to particular types of learning difficulties. All students with demonstrable learning-based needs are entitled to appropriate accommodations in the form of special education programs and services, including classroom-based accommodations. The determining factor for the provision of special education programs or services is not any specific diagnosed or undiagnosed medical condition, but rather the needs of the individual students based on the individual assessment of strengths and needs.

Special Education Appeal Board

The board must establish a special education appeal board (SEAB) if it receives a notice of appeal. Each SEAB has the following members, who must not have had any prior involvement with the case:

  • a person nominated by the school board who must not be an employee of the board or the Ministry of Education; the person does not need to be a supervisory officer;
  • a person nominated by the parent or student; and
  • a chair selected jointly by the two members.

If the nominees are unable to agree on a chair, the appointment is made by the ministry’s regional manager.

The SEAB will convene a meeting or meetings with representatives of the school board, the parents and any other person who, in the opinion of the SEAB chair, may be able to contribute information on the matters under appeal.

The SEAB has two options: it may agree with the IPRC and recommend to the school board the implementation of the IPRC’s decision; or, it may disagree with the IPRC and make an alternative recommendation concerning identification and/or placement. The recommendation must be forwarded to the board within 3 days of the end of the meeting. The board must, within 30 days, decide on the action it will take and inform the parent of its decision. The notice to the parent must explain the parent’s further right to appeal to the Ontario Special Education (English or French) Tribunal.

Special Education Tribunal

Following receipt of the notice of decision by the school board, a parent who disagrees with the board’s decision may appeal to the Special Education Tribunal (SET), which is established by the Ministry of Education under the Education Act. The appeal proceeds before the SET as a formal hearing between the parents and the school board. At the conclusion of the hearing, the SET may dismiss the appeal, or grant the appeal and make any order it considers necessary for the identification or placement of the student. The decision of the SET is final and binding on the parents and the board. However, the parents or board have recourse to the courts if the SET makes an error in law or in procedural fairness.

Before the tribunal agrees to hear the appeal, the tribunal secretary asks both parties whether they will consider mediation.

Individual Education Plan

Regulation 181/98 of the Education Act (Identification and Placement of Exceptional Pupils) requires that an Individual Education Plan (IEP) be developed for students with exceptionalities. The requirements for IEPs are further set out in the Ministry of Education’s policy document Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation, 2000.

Every student who has been identified as having an exceptionality by an IPRC must be provided with an IEP within 30 school days of the start of the placement. School boards may also provide a special education program and/or related services for a child who has not been identified as having an exceptionality. In such cases, an IEP should be developed for that child. The plan must be developed by the student’s teachers, under the supervision of the principal and in consultation with the parents and the student, if the student is 16 years of age or older.

An IEP is a written plan that describes the student’s learning strengths and areas of need. It identifies the special education program and/or services that will be provided. Key components of an IEP include:

  • any accommodations, such as special teaching strategies, support services, or assistive devices, that a student needs to achieve learning expectations, including accommodations to be provided during provincial assessments;
  • any modified learning expectations, reflecting changes to the expectations set out in the Ontario curriculum;
  • any alternative learning expectations for program areas not found in the Ontario curriculum, such as personal care skills, social skills, and anger management training;
  • information on how the student’s progress will be monitored, evaluated, and reported to parents; and,
  • a transition plan must be developed for all students who have an IEP, whether or not they have been identified as having an exceptionality by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee; this includes students identified as having an exceptionality solely on the basis of giftedness. This is required by PPM 156 (Supporting Transitions for Students with Special Education Needs). Further information on the transition plan is available at:

School boards have been encouraged by the ministry to develop the tools and processes needed to examine the quality of their IEPs against the requirements set out in the standards. Further information on the development, implementation, and monitoring of IEPs is available in the ministry document The Individual Education Plan (IEP): A Resource Guide, 2004.

Further Information

Further information about special education policies and procedures can be obtained from the ministry’s website, at

Children and Youth Mental Health and Addictions

The government announced in the May 2011 Budget an investment of $257 million over three years in Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. This funding started in 2011-12 and grew to $93 million per year by 2013-14.

In June 2011 the government released Open Minds, Healthy Minds, Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. ( The first three years focused on children and youth and was led by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) in partnership with the Ministries of Education (EDU) and Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC)

The Ministry of Education made the following commitments as part of the strategy:

  • Development of a Kindergarten to Grade 12 Resource Guide
    • Teachers and other school board staff were provided information on promoting mental health, early signs of mental health and/or addictionsissues, and preventative actions they can take. Supporting Minds, an Educator’s Guide to Promoting Students' Mental Health and Well-being was released in the fall of 2013 as a draft for consultation. ( )
  • Implementing School Mental Health ASSIST
    • SMH ASSIST is a provincial implementation support team that is designed to help Ontario school boards promote student mental health and well-being through leadership, practical resources and systematic evidence-based approaches to school mental health.
    • SMH ASSIST provides leadership and ongoing implementation and coaching support to school board Mental Health Leaders.
  • Mental Health Leaders
    • All 72 Ontario school boards receive annual funding for a Mental Health Leader position. Mental Health Leaders are full-time senior mental health professionals who work closely with School Mental Health ASSIST to provide leadership support in their school board to develop and implement a board-level comprehensive student mental health and addictions strategy. One Mental Health Leader position is allocated for Ontario’s school authorities.
  • Enhancements to the Curriculum
    • Beginning in 2012-13, the Ontario Curriculum was enhanced to further promote healthy growth and development, and mental health. Opportunities to learn about mental health and addictions currently exist across the curriculum with the most direct opportunities within Health and Physical Education (HPE)/Éducation physique et santé (EPS) (Grades 1-8 and 9-12), Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH/Sciences humaines et sociale (SHS) (Grades 9-12), and other curricula such as Technological Education/Éducation technologique (Grades 9-12).
    • In addition, resources are being developed jointly between the Special Education Policy and Programs Branch and the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Branch for Ontario educators to help them better support student mental health and well-being.

School Board Associations have been actively supportive of Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy and have formed a multi-sectoral Coalition for Children and Youth Mental Health. The Coalition brings together educators, parents, students and professionals from sectors such as health, mental health, child and youth services and community agencies to share knowledge and strategies. A Summit on Children and Youth Mental Health is held every two years.

21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative

Since 2010, the Ministry has engaged in specific collaboration with educators across the province to examine the opportunities and challenges associated with teaching and learning in a digital age and emerging knowledge and innovation in society.

The Ministry has: commissioned and published research; engaged in ongoing dialogue in various forums with education leaders and representatives; and, in partnership with the Council of Ontario Directors of Education co-sponsored three rounds of collaborative research and knowledge mobilization activities investigating local technology-enabled innovation projects that are making a difference for students. All projects followed a common research framework to report on impacts on changing pedagogy and improving student engagement, learning, and achievement, with a focus on higher order, new generation 21st century skills. The 2013-14 round of activities is ongoing. Research, reports from 2011-12 and 2012-13 rounds, and related resources such as videos are available at the 21st century learning domain on the eduGAINS website at: Annually, at the 21st Century Learning Roundtable event co-hosted by the Ministry and CODE, school board teams have an opportunity to share promising innovation practices, connecting local practice with provincial and international trends, and to contribute to the evolving multi-phased provincial plan.

School Board Associations have been active in promoting New Generation skills and supporting progress towards a provincial policy. A key document published by the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, A Vision for Learning and Teaching in a Digital Age (2013) is available at:

Adult and Continuing Education

Continuing education enables people to engage in purposeful learning activities at various points in their lives. It involves the provision of credit and non-credit courses for individuals who wish to study part-time, or full-time for a short term, outside the program offered in elementary or secondary schools. Programs offered through Adult and Continuing Education may include:

  • Adult Day School
  • Adult Continuing Education Day School
  • Night School
  • Summer School
  • Correspondence self-study including elearning
  • Secondary crossover or transfer courses
  • Elementary and secondary reach-ahead courses
  • Elementary international language courses
  • Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition* (PLAR) for mature students
  • Adult Native language

Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) for mature students is a formal evaluation and accreditation process carried out under the direction of a school principal. Through this process the principal may grant secondary school credits to mature students.

Secondary school credit courses for independent study at a distance that meet the requirements of the Ontario Ministry of Education are available through TVOntario’s Independent Learning Centre (ILC). For more information visit

Many school boards also offer programs funded by other ministries, including:

  • Adult non-credit programs for English or French Second Language and Citizenship offered by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration.
  • Adult non-credit programs for Literacy and Basic Skills offered by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.