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NAEP report: 'Rigor works,' so schools need tougher classes

More students – but still not enough – are taking a rigorous course load, according to the NAEP report card from The National Assessment of Educational Progress, released Wednesday.

Senior Milan Byrdwell (l.) and Cameron Barnes wear striped ties in this March 2010 photo, signifying that they have been accepted into college. Urban Prep Academy in Chicago is an all-boys' high school dedicated to high-quality college preparatory education for their students – young African-American boys. A new NAEP report card shows that more students – but few minorities or English-language learners – are taking challenging courses in high school.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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American high-schoolers are earning more credits and taking more challenging courses than they did 20 years ago, according to a new study of high school transcripts. But education experts still worry that not enough of them are graduating ready to enter college or get on track for science- and math-based careers.

Almost twice as many students completed at least a standard curriculum in 2009 as in 1990, the report shows. Curricular rigor improved for students across racial and ethnic groups, but significant gaps still remain.

The economic future of the country depends on improving education, and “the message [of this study] is that rigor works,” says Bob Wise, president of Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, which advocates for improving high schools. “But it puts an obligation on all of us to be sure we’re not only providing rigorous courses, but also the support students need to succeed in them.”

Tracking student coursework is important, policymakers say, because some research has shown that a more challenging curriculum is associated with success in education beyond high school. Today’s study comes at a time when the vast majority of states are moving toward a set voluntary Common Core State Standards designed to teach students at a more demanding level.

Key findings from the national report card


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