Michigan’s Tougher Curriculum Leads to Lower Graduation Rates

The introduction of more stringent high school graduation requirements in Michigan has contributed to lower graduation rates among underachieving students, The Detroit News reports. Analysis of state education data by the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research shows that a larger percentage of students are now staying in high school for longer than the traditional four years because they are stymied by new standards that focus more on subjects like mathematics and science.

Overall, the analysis was a mix of good news and bad. The adoption of the Michigan Merit Curriculum has pushed the graduation rate of lower-achieving students from 49% before its introduction to 44.5% after. Although the standardized scores went up for students who were well-prepared prior to entering high school, writing scores declined across the board.

"These findings are for the first set of students subject to the new requirements. The results may change as schools and teachers gain experience with the curriculum," said Susan Dynarski, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ford School of Public Policy and one of the study's authors. "As more students complete their high school years, we will find out whether the curriculum boosts college attendance and success, a key goal of the reform."

As part of the MMC, high school students cannot graduate without completing three years of mathematics, two years of science, two years of a foreign language and four years of English language arts. 2011 is the first year that the impact of the MMC could be properly evaluated, as the students who graduated in the spring of 2011 were the first class to enter high school after MMC was introduced in the fall of 2007.

State Superintendent Michael Flanagan said that having the four years' of data to analyze is important not only to determine how students are performing, but also as a diagnostic tool to see if MMC requires any adjustments.

Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest research and advocacy group, said the research raises questions about the impact of the MMC on students.
"For example, are low-achieving students less likely to have access to the required MMC courses? There is much that we still need to examine — and address — to ensure all of our Michigan children have the opportunity to learn at high levels," she said.

The analysis is based on the data collected from over 700,000 students who have been enrolled in Michigan public high schools between 2007 and 2011.

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