Michigan Merit Curriculum Produces Positive Results

Education Trust-Midwest reports that a study has shown that students who have spent their entire careers in high schools that have implemented the Michigan Merit Curriculum have experienced a boost to their academic achievement. The study also showed that, contrary to the concerns expressed before MMC was adopted, its introduction did not result in a large spike in high school dropout rates.

The MMC, which was put in effect in 2006, was designed to increase the rigor of the coursework used in Michigan high schools. Now, the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research reports that MMC students in the top quartile showed substantial improvement on their ACT exam scores. Unfortunately, a similar bump wasn't observed for students in the bottom quartile.

"This research raises many important, unanswered questions about the impact of the MMC on students," said Amber Arellano, executive director of the nonpartisan Education Trust-Midwest research and advocacy group. "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."

The MMC was drawn up in response to research that showed students in low-income, high-minority schools typically didn't have access to the same comprehensive and rigorous curriculum as their counterparts from wealthier schools. Michigan differs from other states because it doesn't use statewide standardized exams to access student achievement. Instead, the task of designing and implementing end-of-course exams is left to each local district. As a result, it is difficult to access how the quality of instruction in one district compares to another.

Today's results also show that Michigan students are reporting that they are not taking all of the required MMC courses, especially in math. For instance, 28% of students claim that they took less than the four years of the MMC's required math. An additional 30% of students say that, although they will take four years of math, they will not take all of the required MMC math courses.

"We are encouraged that a second part of this research study will explore the variation in school implementation of this reform around the state," Arellano said.

The Education Trust-Midwest continues its support of MMC — especially in light of the study's results — and the group opposes efforts by some state legislators to weaken the curriculum. The program was put into place when businesses expressed a reluctance to relocate to Michigan because of the poor quality of its education system.

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