High-Level Curriculum Not Always ‘Rigorous’

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Students need rigorous coursework to prepare them for success in college and the workplace. Years of advocacy and policy change have resulted in more students—particularly students of color—taking high-level courses. Now, a new study reveals that access to these classes does not always equate with high-quality instruction. Some courses appear to be “rigorous” in name only.

Data from the 2009 High School Transcript Study, by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), show that the more rigorous coursework is helping, but disparities still exist. African-American graduates who took a rigorous curriculum scored 45 points higher on the NAEP mathematics exam than those who took a standard curriculum.

However, performance gaps persisted between cohorts of students completing what is, supposedly, the same level of curriculum. Latinos completing a mid-level curriculum, for instance, performed about as well on the NAEP mathematics and science assessments as white graduates completing a below standard curriculum. African-American graduates taking the most rigorous curriculum, meanwhile, performed about as well as white graduates following a mid-level curriculum.

To prepare students for today's global economy, all must have access to rigorous courses that live up to their name.