Is High School Hard Enough

Alan Borsuk:

Four years of English and three years of math, science and social studies. That sounds like a fairly solid high school career, but not one that demands a super amount of effort.

In fact, that’s what Wisconsin’s graduation requirements call for, starting with the Class of 2017, which is to say, this year’s seniors. Until this year, requirements under state law were actually lighter, including only two years of math and science.

So it got me wondering when the annual report on the performance of Wisconsin students on the ACT college entrance test came out recently. Included was this: Only 55% of students in the Class of 2016 said they were taking what ACT defines as a “core curriculum” in high school. And the ACT definition is: four years of English and three years of math, science and social studies, the same thing Wisconsin is now requiring as a matter of law.

Is there that big a gap between what many students in the state are studying in high school and what they ought to be studying? Nationwide, 69% of students who took the ACT said they were taking at least the core curriculum. That’s 14 percentage points higher than Wisconsin. Is Wisconsin going easier on high school students than other states?

Furthermore, the average ACT score for Wisconsin’s Class of 2016 was down from the scores in a long line of prior years, and the percentage of kids scoring at levels ACT associates with likely success in college was also down (only a quarter of the Class of 2016 hit the benchmarks in all four ACT areas, English, reading, math, and science).

Time to worry? A range of educators I talked to last week generally assured me otherwise.