Press Release

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David Zeman
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ROYAL OAK, Mich. (October 22, 2012) – A study released today shows some positive gains for the first class of Michigan students to be in school since the adoption of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which was designed to ensure all high school students have access to rigorous coursework. The results also show that the MMC did not create an explosion of the high-school dropout rate, as was feared by some when the merit curriculum was first passed in 2006.  And, scores improved for many students in ACT testing, the national college admission exam.

Today’s results, compiled by the Michigan Consortium for Educational Research from data on 70,000 Michigan public high-school students, also found that the MMC seems to have had a very positive effect on the ACT performance of top quartile students. For bottom quartile students, there was no impact of the MMC on two ACT subjects (science and reading) and a slight negative impact on ACT math and writing.

“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.”

National research shows students in high-poverty, high-minority schools are significantly less likely to have the same access to both rigorous coursework and highly effective teachers than do students at wealthier schools.  Unlike other states that used end-of-course testing to examine whether schools properly implemented curriculum reforms, Michigan does not use such tests. Rather, the state leaves it to individual school districts to design and administer their own end-of-course tests, which are not reliable in determining whether, for example, what is taught as algebra in Birmingham is the same as what is taught as algebra in Detroit.

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 to support the minimum standards for high school curriculum that the MMC provides.  Now is not the time to further weaken its rigor, as some lawmakers in Lansing are trying to do. The MMC was passed with bipartisan support in 2006 amid concerns that companies were reluctant to move to Michigan due to the state’s lax high-school standards. Even today, thousands of jobs remain unfilled because the high-school graduates that businesses consider for work lack requisite skills.

Some other points:

  • The report indicated that schools are devoting more resources to teachers of MMC-required courses. But it is unclear whether these teachers are truly prepared or trained to teach these classes.
  • Do some districts assign unqualified teachers to teach MMC subjects, while others reserve those classes for the most qualified teachers?

“These mixed results underscore the need for Michigan to follow through on creating a statewide system for evaluating and training teachers,” Arellano said. “Teachers need rich and useful feedback on their work so they can get the kind of training, professional development and support which they need to improve.”

The Education Trust-Midwest is Michigan’s only statewide nonpartisan policy, research and advocacy organization focused on what is best for Michigan students. Our mission is to work for the high achievement of all students, particularly low-income, African-American, Latino and American-Indian students in Michigan, and to provide honest, reliable information to our state’s families and policymakers.