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The Impact of School Closures and Emergency Remote Learning on Postsecondary Transitions

The Impact of School Closures and Emergency Remote Learning on Postsecondary Transitions

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Authors: Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, Robert S. Brown
November 2021

HEQCO and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) have collaborated on two reports on short-term impacts of COVID-19. A first report, released in July 2021, examined grades and credit accumulation (a proxy for graduation) during the initial province-wide school closures that started in March of 2020. This report examines the progress into postsecondary for that same group of students. It draws on TDSB data and combines it with information about students’ postsecondary applications. Two cohorts were compared: the 16,000+ students who were in their fourth year of school in 2018-19 with a similar number of students who were in their fourth year in 2019-20.

Key findings include:

  • There was an overall increase in year-over-year postsecondary applications and confirmed acceptances.
  • Some key demographic subgroups saw larger-than-usual increases in university confirmations, for example:
    • Confirmations of acceptance for students whose parents did not attend university increased at a greater rate than those whose parents had attended, helping to close a long-standing and substantial gap.
    • Middle Eastern and Black students showed a year-over-year increase in university confirmations of acceptance that was considerably greater than overall TDSB averages.
  • Although there were increases overall, gaps for other equity-seeking subgroups, increased relative to board-wide averages. For example:
    • Southeast Asian and Latin American/Latino/Latinx students saw year-over-year increases in university confirmations of acceptance that were lower than TDSB averages, despite particularly high graduation rates.
    • Students with special education needs saw far-below-average growth in postsecondary education applications and confirmed acceptances.
  • Students who attended the least affluent schools were not only much less likely to go onto postsecondary, but the year-over-year growth in applications and confirmations of acceptance was also much lower.

The analysis in this report discusses “gaps” in post-secondary confirmations for different subgroups within the Toronto District School Board. From an equity perspective, the language of “gaps” is problematic and can reinforce stereotypes, racial hierarchies, or a deficit perspective (Eizadirad, 2020; Kendi, 2016; Quinn, 2020). An undue focus on university may also be seen as “elitist” and devalue learning and experiences associated with college, skilled trades or going straight to work (Smith et al., 2019). This report is informed by a focus on systemic discrimination, which the Ontario Human Rights Commission defines as “patterns of behaviour, policies or practices that are part of the structures of an organization, and which create or perpetuate disadvantage for racialized persons.” (Ontario Human Rights Commission, n.d.). Data is a key part of assessing and addressing systemic discrimination. Where data show that gaps appear to be increasing over time, attention to how institutional practices, policies and organizational culture may be adversely affecting particular groups is needed.