Do Schools Challenge Our Students Now?

When the Center for American Progress released its 2012 report, Do Schools Challenge Our Students?, many states had just committed to the Common Core State Standards. The standards were an attempt to raise expectations by establishing a new set of rigorous K-12 academic benchmarks, and the CAP analysis underscored the need for more rigorous standards, such as the Common Core, as a way to boost student learning.

Five years later, the authors decided to re-examine the data to see how classrooms have changed. Have students been engaging in deeper, more rigorous learning opportunities since the implementation of the Common Core? Or are public schools still not fully challenging their students?  

Revisited: Do Schools Challenge Our Students? by Ulrich Boser and Perpetual Baffour collects and examines new data to see how classrooms have changed. Specifically, the authors wanted to see how student perceptions of their schoolwork might have shifted since the last report.

The new analysis shows some good news. According to the NAEP data, there is a more intensive focus under new standards on richer types of school work. The analysis also shows that an increasing number of students are engaging in the types of learning activities that prepare them to meet the demands of college and the workplace.

The data also showed some small but positive movement in student perceptions of the rigor of their coursework. More exactly, between 2011 and 2015, there was a one-percentage-point drop in the share of students thinking their classes were “too easy” in fourth-grade math and a two-percentage-point drop in eighth-grade math.

While there has been a positive shift, schools still don’t do enough to challenge students. Many high school students still consider their classwork to be “too easy.” For instance, more than half of 12th graders reported that their math work was always or often “too easy.” Many high school students also say that they don’t get much from school, and nearly 20 percent of high school seniors across the nation don’t “feel like they are learning” in math class.

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