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Tracy James
IU Media Relations
traljame@indiana.edu
812-855-0084

Terry Spradlin
Center for Evaluation and Education Policy
tspradli@indiana.edu
812-856-4781

Last modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Indiana University report calls for higher expectations and tougher courses at high schools

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Education and training beyond high school are necessary as Indiana moves from a manufacturing economy to one based on information, high tech and the life sciences. Yet high schools continue to produce too many graduates who are ill-prepared for either the workforce or successful academic pursuits, according to a new policy brief issued by Indiana University Bloomington's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

The report comes as educators and policymakers nationwide focus more attention on high school reform. CEEP Director Jonathan Plucker said research suggests that students are entering high schools better prepared academically than they have been in perhaps a generation. By the time they graduate, however, these gains have diminished.

CEEP's policy brief, titled "Redesigning High Schools to Prepare Students for the Future," cites numerous studies concerning the preparedness of high school students for the workforce or postsecondary education, and offers recommendations for how educators and policymakers can get high schools on the right track. School staff's low expectations of students' academic potential and limited curricular offerings are just some of the hurdles school administrators and staff face in revamping their schools.

"Clearly research that we've highlighted in the policy brief illustrates that when expectations are raised for all kids, they generally meet the challenge, whereas when students are placed in lower-level classes, even high-performing students underperform their peers," said Terry Spradlin, CEEP associate director for education policy.

The policy brief points to successes in Indiana, however, noting research from Indiana University that shows Indiana students perform significantly better on such measures as the SAT college entrance exam and college persistence if they completed Indiana's Core 40 high school curriculum or earned the state's Academic Honors Diploma.

"Indiana also has been recognized nationally for its efforts to revamp its high school curriculum, and the efforts of K-12 and higher education leaders to align student expectations," Spradlin said.

The report makes the following recommendations:

High school preparation:

  • All high school students should have the option to take -- and should be encouraged to take -- high-level mathematics, English and science courses during high school to prepare them for the rigors of college or the workforce.
  • Minimum graduation requirements should be increased for all students to ensure the completion of a rigorous, meaningful curriculum during high school. At the same time, high-level courses and programs should be maintained to promote achievement among the highest-performing students (e.g., advanced honors courses, dual enrollment programs).

Curriculum changes:

  • Schools must examine what reforms are most appropriate for them and implement those that will be of greatest benefit to their students.
  • Many of these reforms can be highly resource-intensive. They should be evaluated to ensure that scarce resources are not devoted to ineffective curricular changes. At the same time, all programs can be improved and comprehensive evaluations can provide the information necessary to improve major reform initiatives that are in progress.

Define essential skills:

  • Businesses, secondary education institutions and postsecondary institutions should work together to develop a set of common essential skills that are necessary for success in either college or the workplace. Indiana's Education Roundtable is an example of just such a consortium.
  • Indiana is recognized as having world-class academic standards for its courses. However, failing to complete the proper sequence of courses in high school can leave students without the essential skills necessary for success in college. Alignment between secondary and postsecondary institutions' expectations for their students is necessary to enable students to complete the courses that will allow them to develop essential skills for success in college.

Broad reform needed:

  • The State of Indiana should create a high school improvement task force whose mission would include serving as a clearinghouse for information on effective high school reforms both within the state and across the nation. The task force, perhaps resulting from a consortium of government, education and private groups with interest and expertise in improving high schools, could also provide information on funding opportunities to support reform.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. To learn more about CEEP, go to http://www.ceep.indiana.edu.

Spradlin can be reached at 812-856-4781 and tspradli@indiana.edu.