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Senate Bill 145: Not the Answer for Colorado's High School Students

By Marya DeGrow

The Colorado General Assembly is debating Senate Bill 145 sponsored by Senator Peter Groff (D-Denver). The bill would require public school students to complete a state-imposed minimum set of core curriculum classes for high school graduation. The rhetoric surrounding the bill has been deceiving. On the surface it appears to make school districts align their graduation requirements with new college admission requirements for Colorado public colleges and universities.

Beginning in 2008, most students entering Colorado public institutions of higher education will be required to have taken a specific core curriculum: four years of English, three years of mathematics (algebra I, geometry, and one other higher level math courses), three years of social studies, three years of science (including at least two classes with laboratory work), and two years of elective classes. In 2010 an additional year of higher level math and two years of foreign language classes will be required for admission to Colorado colleges and universities.

But the bill does not necessarily ensure that students will meet these requirements for two reasons:

First, a Senate amendment changed the bills language so that the number of courses in academic areas is no longer in line with the 2010 college admission requirements. The original language included four years of math and two years of foreign language. This was changed to three years of math and no foreign language requirement. Students who met the minimum high school graduation requirements in 2010 would still need at least one more year of math and two years of foreign language for admission to a state college.

Second, and more importantly, as the new higher education standards require a particular number of courses in academic areas, they also require a specific level of course work SB 145 does not. A student could take algebra I, geometry, and business math to meet the high school graduation requirement but still fall short of the college admission requirement. Why? Because business math is specifically excluded from acceptable math courses in the college admission requirements.

If passed, SB 145 may mislead parents and students to think that the new graduation requirement will ensure that students meet the minimum standards for entrance into Colorado public colleges and universities.

Students would not automatically meet Colorado public college admission requirements and would not necessarily be better educated.

Currently, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has a graduation requirement just one semester of social studies less than the bills graduation requirement. However, Cherry Creek would need to increase both its math and science requirements by one year and its social studies requirement by one semester. But wait a minute, Denver’s average ACT composite score for 2003 was 15.8 and Cherry Creek’s was 20.6. With Denver’s higher core curriculum requirements one might expect these test scores to be the other way around. Obviously, graduation requirements do not magically produce student achievement.

A state government mandate that high school graduation requirements exactly mirror the college admission requirements (with four years of math algebra I and higher) could cause more harm than good. We would most certainly see higher dropout rates as some students would not be able to complete the strenuous math curriculum or two years of foreign language.

However, SB 145 allows school districts to create new math or science classes that would simply lead to social promotion rather than greater preparation for college or career. Requiring a class does not necessarily make it worthwhile.

Instead of vague state-imposed curriculum requirements, policymakers should consider requiring school districts to notify a students parents of the admissions requirements for Colorado public institutions of higher education when their child is registering for ninth grade, or even eighth grade.

Parental guidance is crucial to the academic success of students; therefore, parents must be informed about the requirements their children will need to meet in order to attend college.

Such a notification should alert students who desire to attend college and their parents that they will need to plan for a challenging core curriculum as they enter their eighth grade year. For students not planning to attend college, such notification may instigate discussions with their parents about the possibility of college.

Instead of forcing a vague, quasi-core curriculum on all students, tell them up front, If you want to go to college, this is what you have to do. This notification would give students and parents goals to focus on and a reason to work hard in school.

Marya DeGrow is a Research Associate at the Independence Institute. She is the author of Cutting Back on Catching Up: Reducing the Need for Remediation in Colorado Higher Education.