Education

Tougher High School Exit Criteria May Not Boost College Prospects, Study Says

By Sarah D. Sparks — July 15, 2014 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In an effort to prepare students for college and careers, nearly all states have toughened their graduation requirements, particularly in science and mathematics. But their efforts may mean fewer students make it through high school and to college in the first place, according to a new study in the journal Education Researcher.

Lead researcher Andrew D. Plunk and his colleagues tracked the rates of students dropping out of high school, attending college, and completing a higher degree in states between 1980 and 1999, during the last period in which states tightened graduation requirements.

Across nearly every racial group, high school dropout rates increased as states required more math and science courses in order to graduate. For example, the researchers found dropout rates were nearly 3 percentage points higher for students in states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Louisiana that required a total of six math and science classes to graduate by 1990, than in states with no requirements, 11.4 percent versus 8.6 percent.

That’s not surprising; critiques of efforts to boost high school rigor have often pointed out that students are more likely to give up (or get pushed out) if they face a higher bar to graduation. What gives more pause: The researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found boosting math and science course requirements did not increase the likelihood graduates would go on to college—in fact, non-migrant Hispanic men became more than 5 percentage points less likely to attend college, and non-migrant Hispanic women more than 3 percentage points less likely to attend.

Among those who did attend, the additional coursework in high school seemed to help some of them earn a degree. Black women who graduated under requirements for six courses were nearly 3 percentage points more likely to earn a degree in college, and Hispanic men were more than 6 percentage points likelier to earn a degree if they attended college after finishing high school with the highest graduation requirements.

So what’s the takeaway here? Obviously, it is important for students to be prepared to complete rigorous coursework in college, but if students never manage to get to college it’s a bit of a moot point.
With most states working to implement new mathematics standards under the Common Core State Standards and other content benchmarks, and others implementing the Next-Generation Science Standards, policymakers should be bracing for more students to struggle to meet more rigorous course requirements. This study suggests a higher bar without more instructional support could leave behind the very students that standards are intended to help.

For more about the study, check out the American Association of Educational Research’s interview with the researchers:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)