Toronto’s public school board axes all exams, auditions for entry to specialized schools

Toronto District School Board trustees voted to remove all tests, exams, audits and grade entry requirements to dozens of its specialized schools and programs at a meeting on Wednesday night.

Instead, trustees approved a new policy where students who seek entry to the board’s several dozen high school specialized arts, athletics, science, math and other programs will be based on “interest,” with a random draw of applicants conducted whenever demanded outstrips spaces.

The change is meant to “move away from a model that only accepts those with demonstrated strength and/or ability” towards a model that will provide all students who express an interest with an equal chance to enroll in one of the programs.

“It is our responsibility to take action to improve access for all students where we identify systemic barriers. This new policy will ensure a greater number of students have access to these high quality programs and schools while reducing barriers that have long-prevented many students from even applying,” Board Chair Alexander Brown said in a statement.

The existing process of entry to the TDSB’s specialized programs has been criticized for favouring students from wealthier families.

The new application process begins in Sept. 2023.

Trustees voted 17-3 with two absences to approve the new policy.

During a consultation process, board staff found the public saw the battery of tests, exams and auditions required for students to attend specialized schools odd considering the board’s French immersion programs have no such requirement and are based on applicant interest.

Use of report card grades or payment of application fees will be banned in the new system.

But applicants still can submit “statements of interest,” “demonstrations of creativity,” and in the case of athletics, a letter from a coach.

Students will also be restricted from applying to more than one of the roughly 40 specialized secondary school programs on offer across the city.

The board says only 20 per cent of students apply to more than one program.

“Many students are only able to consider applying to the centralized program or school that is closest to their home,” staff wrote in a report submitted to trustees. “Giving an advantage to students/families who are able to travel/commute or may have fewer responsibilities outside the school day.”

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