More students are taking rigorous classes and — surprise! — scoring higher on achievement tests, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Study.

Thirteen percent of students complete rigorous courses, including high-level math and science, up from only 5 percent in 1990. Another 46 percent take a “midlevel” curriculum, increased from 26 percent. *Ed Week* reports:

The report classifies student coursetaking by three curriculum levels: “standard” (at least four credits of English and three credits each in social studies, math, and science); midlevel (standard requirements plus geometry and Algebra 1 or 2; at least two courses from biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least one credit of a foreign language); and rigorous (all the midlevel requirements plus an additional credit in precalculus or higher math; courses in biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least three credits in a foreign language).

“Rigorous” graduates typically score proficient on NAEP exams, while midlevel and standard graduates score at the basic level.

. . . The proportion of black graduates attaining a rigorous-curriculum level increased from 2 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2009. For Hispanic students, the number rose from 2 percent to 8 percent in the same stretch, and for Asian/Pacific Islanders, it went from 13 percent to 29 percent. Whites, meanwhile, increased from 5 percent to 14 percent.

Blacks and Latinos who take more rigorous courses don’t perform as well on achievement tests as whites and Asians, said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP.

“It makes me want to question: Are the courses the same?” she said. “Perhaps the pace of instruction is different. There are any number of variables.”

In addition, boys outscore girls in math and science.

Missing science classes were responsible for keeping many students, especially girls, below the rigorous level. (As a 1970 graduate, I wouild have been midlevel with no physics and no math past advanced algebra/trig.)

Two-thirds of “rigorous” graduates took algebra in eighth grade.

In light of the discussion here, I was surprised to learn that 76 percent of high school graduates take Algebra II. That seems high, though the sample excludes those who don’t earn a diploma. In 1990, 53 percent of graduates had taken Algebra II.

“In addition, boys outscore girls in math and science.” OMG! Better organize a commission. How could we let this happen?

On what planet would one think that the courses would be the same? Or even of equivalent difficulty? Even if you mandated the same books for everyone, unless you put robots in the classroom the courses are going to be different.

I’d also like to point out something here: taking a particular set of classes and passing them isn’t the same thing as taking the same set of classes and knocking them out of the park. And, back to my first issue for a moment, what exactly it is you knock out of the park in a particular class is an open question.

As one of the commenters on EducationWeek said:

Finally, you might think that the conclusions of the study are somewhat intuitive, and indeed so intuitive that they make the study seem kind of silly. Students who take Precalculus are better at math?

Well, sure. Assuming that schools aren’t just putting students into chairs in the Precalculus class for lack of other space to store them, you might think that being better at math than other students is, like,

why they’re in Precalculus.Maybe I’m misreading the study, because that seems like a really obvious point.

So the conclusion is

what, that there’s been an uptick in higher-achieving students who, because they’re higher achieving students, are taking more rigorous curricula? Well great! That’s good for us.actuallyBut it’s the achievement that’s the news, not the obvious “link” between scores and curriculum.

“I was surprised to learn that 76 percent of high school graduates take Algebra II. That seems high”

Many students in Algebra II are not taking Algebra II. At my school, the “on-level” algebra II class spends most of its time covering material on the state math assessment which does not include any material from Algebra II. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Throughout each state the progression of math classes are all given the same name (Alg I, Geometry, Alg II, etc.). Low income schools tend to be doing remedial work at all levels which is why students in Alg II cannot solve simple algebraic expressions.

At my alma mater, Algebra I got shifted from 8th honors/9th regular college prep to 7th honors/8th regular college prep in order to help students be more competitive for college admissions. The average kids who would’ve topped out at Pre-Calc in 12th are now taking Calculus, and the smart kids are now doing AP Calculus in 11th and Post-AP Math in 12th. At least on the honors track, I don’t think the classes have been dumbed-down, just shifted a year earlier. Not sure about the regular college prep ones.

I actually wrote an op ed about this in December, Forcing kids on the college track is a bad idea.

By the way, people who insisted that AII was required back in the day: there you go. It wasn’t.

It doesn’t surprise me that 76% of kids take Algebra II. That sounds about right. If they are consistent with California, about half of them would score below basic or far below basic. That number would include close to 75% of blacks and Hispanics.

Blacks and Latinos who take more rigorous courses don’t perform as well on achievement tests as whites and Asians, said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP.That’s an understatement. Blacks taking a rigorous course load in math still scored an average just a point higher than whites taking a standard course load–Hispanics just a couple points higher than that. It’s hard to know if that’s because so many charter schools like Summit lie about what their kids are doing, or if the average ability of all kids is really that bad.

Interesting to note that only 8% of each ethnicity didn’t attain “standard” curriculum in math, and that the score differences between below standard and standard were practically non-existent. This suggests that most kids held back by failing (which is what would keep them in below standard) are being failed because of non-academic factors (reference earlier discussion about the “morality clause” of homework).

Cornelia’s comment is moronic unless one assumes that all blacks and all Hispanics go to segregated schools. Is she making that assumption?