Which school do you want to support?
Most people agree that school should be rigorous, in a Goldilocks sort of way. You know, hard but not TOO hard.
The meaning of rigor in K-12 schools actually involves several questions. What set of educational opportunities should schools make available to all students? What is the minimum level of competency every student should meet? Obviously, students will emerge from high school with differences in their academic achievements; at what point can and should our expectations for students diverge based on their individual interests and abilities?
School is America's opportunity engine. Our public school system exists, in part, to give every young person the opportunity for success in college and career. (The question of whether college and career require identical preparation is covered at greater length in Lesson 6.11.)
In California, being "college ready" has a specific meaning.
In California, being "college ready" has a specific meaning. To gain entry to the University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) college system, students must pass a set of fifteen courses in seven categories with a grade of C or better. These are known as the "a-g requirements". (Insiders pronounce the hyphen as the word "through," so it reads "A through G." For some reason it is usually written in lower case. Go figure.) High schools submit course descriptions to UC officials who decide if they qualify as college-preparatory courses.
|a||History/Social Science||2 years|
Algebra 1, Geometry,
Algebra 2 or equiv.
|d||Laboratory Science||2 years|
|e||Language other than English||2 years|
|f||Visual and Performing Arts||1 year|
|g||College-preparatory Elective||1 year|
This list of courses is more demanding than the state’s minimum high school graduation requirements or the expectations in most school districts. In 2011-12, about 38% of the state’s high school graduates met this set of course requirements. Completion rates varied dramatically based on student ethnicity.
Not all high schools even offer the full a-g course sequence
Not all high schools offer the full a-g course sequence. Of those that do, many do not make these classes available to all their students. To apply to a public four year college in California, students in such schools often struggle to find a way to meet the requirements, if they are even clear about them. Some enroll in courses at a community college.
Considerably less than half of California high school students pass the a-g course sequence.
In an effort to improve educational rigor for all students, and to expand students’ access to college, some California school districts are making the a-g course sequence central to their expectations for all students. Los Angeles Unified, California's largest school district, went so far as to make completion of the a-g course sequence a graduation requirement, a policy it established in 2005 for students graduating in 2017. Many more students took and passed the more advanced courses, but the higher bar meant that substantially fewer were on course to earn a high school diploma. Another high profile district's record-keeping came under critical scrutiny in 2013. It appears that although the district expected all students to take the a-g courses, it was less successful at making sure that students were able to master the course content.
Students are much more likely to succeed in rigorous high school courses if they enter high school well prepared. The same can be said of middle school, and of each grade level back to kindergarten or even earlier. This idea of building knowledge and skills intentionally and gradually from year to year is a central element of the design of the Common Core State Standards.
What minimum level of competency is acceptable for a high school graduate today? One way to answer that is to specify which subjects students need to study, such as the a-g requirements. Another is to decide how well they need to learn the material. We’ll get into the question of what constitutes success a lot more deeply in Chapter 9.
In many cases, getting into college requires more than just completing those a-g requirements. Check these out:
The California State PTA provides resources to help plan for college, including info on application and testing assistance, school research, and financial aid.
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