Simply completing the 8th grade might not be enough to make it to high school in Idaho.
The state board of education is considering a controversial proposal to set minimum academic requirements for students entering 9th grade, while also ramping up high school requirements once students get there.
For example, in what could be a first nationally, middle schoolers would need a cumulative C average in their core academic subjects: mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies. And they would need to achieve that average for all three years of middle school. They would also be required to pass a pre-algebra class.
That’s not all.
In high school, the amount of math required would double from two years to four, and another year of science would be added to the two years now required.
Middle school students would be expected to choose classes sooner that would support their interests after high school. Such a “postsecondary learning plan” is already required for each student in 8th grade, but the proposal would back that process down to the 6th grade. High school students would also have to take “career focused” electives supporting their future plans.
“Studies have shown that when students have a more rigorous curriculum, they are more likely to seek a postsecondary education, whether at a community college, university, or professional-technical program,” according to board materials on the plan, which the board is set to vote on this month.
States have been beefing up high school course and graduation requirements, but setting a minimum grade point average for high school admission is novel.
“We haven’t seen anything like this,” said Michael Carr, a spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, in Reston, Va.
If adopted by the state board, the Idaho plan would have to be approved by the legislature’s House or Senate education committee. Because it would be a rule and not a law, the plan would not require passage by the full legislature.
While Idaho has a relatively high graduation rate of 81 percent, school officials say action is needed to encourage more graduates to go to college. According to the board, only 34 percent of the state’s high school graduates attend college, and only 14 percent eventually earn a degree. Nationally, the college attendance rate is about 60 percent. And the completion rate for a bachelors’ degree is about 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education data.
“The critical part of this plan are the math and science courses,” said Luci Willits, a spokeswoman for the state board.
If the plan is adopted, students scheduled to graduate in 2012—this year’s 6th graders—will be the first to face all of the new requirements. Some of the middle school changes would affect students entering 6th grade next school year.
Some Idaho educators and parents have opposed the proposal in public hearings held by the board.
“Where will the math and science teachers come from?” said Sherri Wood, the president of the Idaho Education Association. “We don’t have enough as it is now.”
Others worry that adding academic classes would force students to cut back or eliminate electives, such as music or debate, that don’t match their career goals.
But board members have prepared sample transcripts to demonstrate that there will be room for electives. The state board says it is consulting with districts and is working on a cost analysis for the legislature.
Ms. Willits added that once the task force working on the proposal and the full board review the public feedback, some changes are likely to be made.
A version of this article appeared in the November 02, 2005 edition of Education Week as Idaho Studies Minimum GPA for High School Admission