Mixed Opinions About Rigor

In 2006, the State of Michigan implemented the new Michigan Merit Curriculum requirements for high school graduation. The new curriculum requires students graduating in 2011 and beyond to have 4 credits (typically 4 years) in language arts and math, including Algebra II, and 3 in science and social studies. There was great concern that the new rigor might increase the number of dropouts. We asked our students what they thought about the difficulty of courses required for graduation.

• More than half, 54%, said the difficulty in their coursework is about right, and most students, 83%, feel challenged by their classes
• A significant portion, 35%, found the graduation requirements too demanding
• 37% worried they might fail a class that would prevent them from graduating
• Students believe their friends are doing fine, with 70% of them reporting the friends are passing all their courses
• About a third of the students said they didn't have the flexibility in their schedule to either take advanced coursework or classes that align with their interests

Grad Requirements Chart

We also asked about course options and flexibility to see if there was a difference between the 12th graders not affected by the new rules, and the 11th graders who were the first to experience them.  Across grades 9-12, concern about rigor spiked with 11th graders.

• When split by grades, the 11th graders (63%) were twice as dissatisfied with course rigor as the 12th graders (33%)
• 11th graders were also less likely than 12th graders to say they had the opportunity to take classes that interest them or to have input in their course schedule

When asked about specific core subjects, Math surfaced multiple times as the toughest course, the grade they worried most about and the one with the most homework.

• Students indicated that Math was the most difficult subject and 79% worried about getting a good grade in it, with worries about Science close behind; Social Studies was seen as least difficult
• Students indicated their highest interest in Science, the least in Math; with Social Studies and World Languages in thfe middle
• While a slight majority (53%) of students reported that their teachers made sure they understood content before introducing new topics, 46% said teachers did not wait before moving on

Despite their concerns about grades and coursework, their confidence in eventual success is high, with 86% of students predicting they would attempt at least a two year degree after high school. Most students believe they will earn a four-year or advanced degree and think their friends will go on to college as well.

• 68% predict their friends will finish a degree
• Less than 2% of students believe they will drop out of high school or get a certificate of completion instead of a diploma
• Only 5% of students think they will end their education with a high school diploma

Predicted edu level


"Difficult subjects like math, need to be taught by the best, and most creative, most personable teachers in the school."
-- Kent ISD Student

"Rigor is not a synonym for ‘harder,’ and it does not mean moving first-grade curriculum into kindergarten, or algebra into the seventh grade. … Rigor means teaching and learning things more thoroughly – more deeply."
-- Nancy Flanagan, Educator
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