High school grads completing more rigorous courses

 Good news about our nation’s high school graduates came out last week. A NCES report found that 2009 graduates earned more credits (one credit equal one full year course) during their high school careers. As a matter of fact, 2009 graduates earned 27.2 credits compared to 23.6 credits for 1990 graduates. Such an increase may not sound very large but that represents 400 more hours of instructional time. Such an increase in instruction can have a dramatic impact on student achievement.

Furthermore, 2009 graduates just didn’t pad their schedules with classes to boost their GPAs; they actually added more rigorous courses that would prepare them for college or the workforce. For the class of 2009, 59 percent of graduates completed a “mid-level” curriculum that consisted of at least 4 years of English, 3 years of social studies, 3 years of math culminating in at least Algebra II, 3 years of science (at least 2 of those years in biology, chemistry, or physics), and 1 year of a foreign language. In contrast, only 31 percent of 1990 graduates completed such a curriculum.

Completing a “mid-level” curriculum that requires math up to at least Algebra II is just the minimum a current high school student needs to be prepared for life after high school, no matter if that student plans on going to college or going straight into the workforce. As the Center’s report on a 21st Century Education and my presentation on Preparing Students for High School and Beyond both demonstrate, students need to complete at least Algebra II to compete in the 21st century economy.

However, students planning on going to 4-year college should complete a “rigorous” curriculum that includes at least one math course beyond Algebra II, such as trigonometry or pre-calculus. Doing so not only increases their chances of getting into a good college but their chances of going on to earn a 4-year degree as well. Although there are nearly three times as many graduates completing such a curriculum, still just 13 percent of graduates completed such a curriculum. (Only 5 percent did so in 1990.)

Nearly three quarters of high school students say they want to go on to college. To ensure that those students who want to go onto college are prepared, many more of them need to complete more rigorous courses in high school. – Jim Hull

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