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The Ontario Academic Credit or OAC ( or ) was part of the curriculum(s) codified by the Ontario Ministry of Education in Ontario Schools:  Intermediate and Senior (OS:IS) and its revisions. In common parlance, the term is used to describe the fifth high school year (originally known as Grade 13) that used to exist in the province of Ontariomarker, Canadamarker. It can also refer to the course offered at the OAC level, or the high school credit that are associated with these courses. Finally, it can refer, informally, to students who were in their OAC year (OACs). Ontario Academic Credits and its related curriculum have been phased out and were last offered for the 2002-2003 school year.

Ontario Academic Credit year

Prior to the introduction of OAC for the 1984-1985 school year, Ontario had 13 grades. There were two high school diplomas in Ontario, the Secondary School Graduation Diploma (SSGD) which was awarded after Grade 12 and the Secondary School Honours Graduation Diploma (SSHGD) awarded after Grade 13. The "Grade 13 diploma" was recognized in some jurisdictions as being the equivalent of first-year university and having it would enable some students to apply directly for entry into second-year at universities outside of Ontario. This practice ended with the replacement of the SSHGD with the Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) under OS:IS.

OS:IS more formally allowed for the completion of schooling after only 12 grades, where previously, this had been an exceptional circumstance. Under OS:IS, OAC year was the final year of high school in Ontario. Students were not required to complete that year in order to receive the OSSD; many students graduated after Grade 12. However, Canadian universities (and indeed, most universities abroad) required OAC for admission.

Ontario Academic Credit courses

OAC courses were the highest level courses in Ontario high schools until the formal elimination of the Ontario Academic Credit. To enter university, students were required to complete 30 high school credits (courses can have different credit values, but most courses were worth 1 credit; some courses were compulsory and there were other restrictions), 6 of which had to be at the OAC level. Assuming that one had taken the necessary prerequisite courses, one could complete an OAC course before the OAC year, thus in many schools, it was common for Grade 11 or Grade 12 students to have taken OAC courses. Students who completed these requirements in 4 years of high school were permitted to graduate; this practice was known as fast-tracking. Finishing Grade 12 in four years with 30 credits was simple if the student was college bound. However most students who were interested in studying at the university level, ended up staying for a 5th year to complete OACs due to the heavy workload, lack of OAC prerequisite credits, or for personal reasons.

Ontario universities looked at a prospective matriculant's "top-six" (the six OAC courses taken with the highest grades) and averaged them. If one's "top-six" average was above a university's "cut-off" (the lowest average they would be willing to accept for that year), one would be admitted. It should be noted that most university programs had certain course requirements (e.g., humanities programs typically required at least OAC English; science programs typically required, in addition to OAC English, a combination of OAC Algebra & Geometry, OAC Calculus, OAC Biology, OAC Chemistry, and OAC Physics), thus these courses had to be completed and are considered part of the student's "top-six."

Students with an average of 80% or greater over 6 OAC courses were named Ontario Scholars. Currently, the same applies for people getting an average over 80% in 6 grade 12 credits.

Secondary school reforms and the "double cohort"

The phasing out of the OAC year, a part of a series of Secondary School Reforms, was announced by the governing Ontario Progressive Conservative Party soon after their election to office in 1995 under the leadership of Premier Mike Harris. Some suggested motivations for these reforms are to modernize the education system or to save money. The reforms cumulated into a new, standardized curriculum documented in Ontario Secondary Schools, Grades 9 to 12: Program and Diploma Requirements (OSS). The OAC year was replaced with an extra ten days of schooling in each lower grade. Most Ontario universities which had offered three-year Bachelor's programs began to phase those out in favour of four-year Honours degrees.

The elimination of the OAC year produced a "double-cohort" caused by both the last OAC (OS:IS) class and the first Grade 12 (OSS) class graduating in the same year (known as the double-cohort year, 2003). This led to more competitive admission standards at most Ontario universities. Some students under OS:IS who feared that they might not be able to gain admission to the university of their choice as a result of the double cohort decided to fast-track to graduate before 2003; a variation of this is where some students under OSS decided to take an extra year of high school to graduate in 2004 or delayed application to post-secondary institutions. Double-cohort students who chose the latter options in their turn affected those in the year after them. In June 2007, a cascade "double-cohort" effect occurred at universities and the job market, as these double-cohort students who finished undergrad in April competed for graduate spaces in universities or employment in the job market.

Informally, OAC is used to refer to the OS:IS curriculum and Grade 12 is used to refer to the OSS curriculum in discussions of the double-cohort.

The Elimination of OAC and Ontario's Alcohol Laws

The elimination of OAC resulted in the majority of incoming first-year students in Ontario universities to drop from 19 years of age to 18 years of age. This created a legal liability to universities and university towns as the majority of first-year students were now below the legal drinking age (it is 19 in Ontario). This has forced the universities to eliminate or police many frosh-week events and traditions that allegedly encouraged drinking and has banned the consumption of alcohol at most frosh-week events. Queen's University's Student Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB) noted in 2005 that "first-year students seemed to show more desire to drink than those of the past few years. Student drinking, prior to attendance, compromised events at which no alcohol was available... The Board wonders if there is merit to making the evening hours busier to avoid allowing time to “pre-drink” before events."

With a significant minority of students below the legal drinking age, 18 year-olds are legally excluded from campus events and social activities. The temporal nature of this exclusion and the stress associated with establishing a social network in an unfamiliar environment creates intense pressure for underage students to either find ways to subvert the Ontario drinking laws (by purchasing fake IDs, using real IDs of other people, or drinking in private residences with ill-gotten alcohol) or sacrifice relationships with those of legal drinking age.

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