Math and Science Standards Prepare for College

The More Things Change: STEM Education in America, Jul. 2008, Vol.9, No. 4, Education Commission of the States

So, Has Anything Changed in the States?

An Established Reform

One of the most visible actions states have taken is raising high school graduation requirements for mathematics and science.  The hugely influential 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, recommended as part of its “Five New Basics” that during high school every student take three years each of mathematics and science. Three years prior to the report, only two states’ graduation requirements lined up with these recommendations in mathematics and only one state met the goal in science.

Partly in response to the recommendations in the report, by 1990, 31 states had increased their graduation requirements, with 11 states requiring three units of mathematics and four states requiring three units of science. This trend continues to this day, as 39 states currently require or are phasing in requirements for students to complete at least three units of mathematics, and 36 states have or are phasing in similar requirements for science.

An Emerging Reform

While raising the number of mathematics and science courses has proven popular across the states, research has found that students are better prepared for college or work if they are required to complete specific courses, rather than increased numbers of mathematics and science courses. Based on research by ACT and Clifford Adelman’s 1999 Answers in the Toolbox report and the 2006 follow-up, The Toolbox Revisited, ECS considers three units of mathematics culminating in Algebra II or higher, and three years of laboratory science to be rigorous. Requiring this course sequence has become more popular with states in recent years.

Currently, only Texas requires at least three units of mathematics culminating in Algebra II or higher. By 2015, that number will rise to 14 states .Similarly, only four states (Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) currently require at least three units of laboratory science. By 2015, this number will rise to 12. When these requirements are fully phased in, eight states will require rigorous graduation requirements in both science and mathematics.

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