Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NAEP Report: 'Rigor Works,' So Schools Need Tougher Classes

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NAEP Report: 'Rigor Works,' So Schools Need Tougher Classes

Article excerpt

More students - but still not enough - are taking a rigorous course load, according to the NAEP report card from The National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Wednesday.

American high-schoolers are earning more credits and taking more challenging courses than they did 20 years ago, according to a new study of high school transcripts. But education experts still worry that not enough of them are graduating ready to enter college or get on track for science- and math-based careers.

Almost twice as many students completed at least a standard curriculum in 2009 as in 1990, the report shows. Curricular rigor improved for students across racial and ethnic groups, but significant gaps still remain.

The economic future of the country depends on improving education, and "the message [of this study] is that rigor works," says Bob Wise, president of Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, which advocates for improving high schools. "But it puts an obligation on all of us to be sure we're not only providing rigorous courses, but also the support students need to succeed in them."

Tracking student coursework is important, policymakers say, because some research has shown that a more challenging curriculum is associated with success in education beyond high school. Today's study comes at a time when the vast majority of states are moving toward a set voluntary Common Core State Standards designed to teach students at a more demanding level.

Key findings from the national report card

Among the key findings comparing 2009 with 1990, in the study released today by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

Students received an average of about 420 more hours of instruction, primarily through summer school and online courses.

75 percent of high school graduates completed at least a standard curriculum (including four credits of English and at least 3 credits in social studies, math, and science). That's up from 40 percent.

46 percent completed a mid-level curriculum (which adds the requirements of algebra II or geometry, one foreign language credit, and two courses out of biology, chemistry, and physics). That's up from 26 percent.

13 percent completed a rigorous curriculum (which adds the requirement of a credit in pre-calculus or a higher course in math, all three of the above science courses, and two more credits in a foreign language). That's up from 5 percent.

Those completing a rigorous curriculum had the highest average NAEP achievement scores.

Grade-point averages rose from 2.68 to 3.00, but have not changed significantly since 2005.

"This study confirms that we need higher secondary standards across the board. In particular, we need stronger requirements in math and science," said David Driscoll, chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, in a written statement. …

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