According to one analysis of educational requirements for the class of 2014, 32 states did not require that all graduates take four years of English and math through Algebra II or its equivalent, which is often defined as the minimum to be prepared for college. At North Fayette Valley High School we have started to pay closer attention to the college readiness data produced by ACT when our students take that assessment, and we are finding that we are coming up a little bit short. We recognize that we need to assess where we are at in terms of course offerings and requirements, as well as how we work with students who intend to go on to a four-year college and their course selection while in high school.
There is some good news off the top as we have required four years of English Language Arts for a number of years. And, we made adjustments a few years ago offering more specific courses with the goal of meeting the various needs of students going on to different types of post-secondary programs. So from the perspective of providing quality preparation for college bound students in the area of English Language Arts, I am confident that our students are ahead of the curve.
When it comes to math, there has been research duplicated over the years that supports the idea that the best predictor of college success is whether a student takes a math class their senior year in high school. We recognize the importance of this even though our requirement is three years of math to meet graduation requirements at NFVHS. We strongly encourage our students to continue their math study, and during the 2015-16 school year, 52% of our seniors took a math class. 42% of those students have taken Algebra II or higher, though that does not include students who may have taken at least Algebra II or higher their junior year but are not taking a math class their senior year. Of our seniors taking math, 36% have taken our Functions class or higher.
Based on the data it would appear that we have some work to do in the area of math preparation. That said, while we have between 85-90% of our students go on to post-secondary education, a large percentage of those students will go into a two-year type program where the math requirements are not quite as high. This is somewhat of a double-edged sword because for years the perception about going on to a two-year program has been that it does not require as rigorous of academic preparation. However, in our changing economy there is a high demand for young people in highly skilled job areas that require a high level of math. Because of that we have been pushing more of our students to continue their math study, but that has been a challenge because of long held perceptions. As with many things, changing beliefs and attitudes takes a lot more time and effort than changing a rule or policy.
“Students and their families rely on and trust the high school diploma as a signal of readiness,” said Alissa Peltzman, the vice president of state policy at Achieve, a nonprofit that performed the study. “It needs to mean something. Otherwise, it’s a false promise for thousands of students.”
When one looks at that quote we recognize that we need to give some serious consideration to our math requirement. Are we doing a good enough job preparing our students? Do we need to require four years of math for all of our students? How do we help our students and their parents better understand the importance of taking high level math regardless of the college path that lies ahead? This is certainly something that lies in front of us as we work through the implementation of Iowa Core Standards and work to better assess our student’s learning.