Testimony in opposition to Senate Bills 600 & 601
Good afternoon. I am Brian Gutman, the director of external relations with the Education Trust-Midwest. We are a nonpartisan research, policy and advocacy organization based in Royal Oak, focused on ensuring that every Michigan student has meaningful access to the quality education and educational opportunities that they need to succeed in school and in life.
I appreciate the opportunity to join you today to testify in opposition to Senate Bill 600 and 601, which makes significant changes to high school graduation requirements under the Michigan Merit Curriculum.
For years, policymakers have rightfully tried to address the issue of students graduating with a high school diploma, but without the skills necessary to succeed. In a state where a quarter of all students that enroll in postsecondary are required to take remedial courses, this policy aim makes sense. Addressing the skills gap among high school graduates will go a long way in setting Michigan students up for success.
To that end, ensuring every student is supported in career exploration makes sense.. Leveraging existing MMC flexibility to provide individualized pathways and the use of CTE courses that cover important course content makes sense.
As important, however, is making sure students complete a career- and college-ready course sequence, so they are prepared for their postsecondary pathway, whatever that may be. Ultimately, this legislation runs the very real risk of putting much-needed career- and college-readiness at risk, especially for historically underserved students across the state.
We first should acknowledge that regardless of changes made to the merit curriculum, Michigan students will still be accountable for knowing much of the content that would be made optional by these bills. For example, the SAT assesses students on a range of math content, including from algebra II.[i] Similarly, the 11th grade social studies assessment includes content from U.S. history and geography, world history and geography, and economics. Each of these courses would be made optional under SB 600. How can we hold students, educators and schools accountable for learning content, when we do not actually require it to be taught?
More importantly, the proposed change would ultimately limit opportunities for Michigan students. Just as we should not limit postsecondary options to only a four-year degree path, we should also not eliminate that path as a possibility for any student. Yet the research is clear that the proposed changes would do just that.
Research conducted by Achieve, Inc. with employers and the postsecondary community makes it clear that to be career- and college-ready, all high school graduates should take four years of high school math, including at least the knowledge and skills typically acquired in algebra II.[ii]
If the goal of high school is to prepare students to succeed after graduation, then we must do all we can to set students up for success, regardless of individual pathway. In an April 2016 report on postsecondary readiness, Education Trust researchers found that successful completion of math and foreign language were the greatest preparedness barriers to students completing a college-ready course sequence.[iii]
For math in particular, the research found the issue was not how many math courses students were taking. The real issue was at what level students entered high school. According to the report, “only 41 percent of students who took pre-algebra or lower as ninth-grade students eventually took an algebra II credit. By contrast, 70 percent of students who started out in algebra I…eventually reached at least algebra II.”
This exposes that, unless required for all students, a student’s middle school math preparation can play a major role in whether a student eventually takes an algebra II credit and is therefore on a career- and college-ready path to graduation. Senate Bill 600 plays directly into this challenge. By requiring four years of math, but not specifying ultimate completion of algebra II, a student’s high school math achievement may be once again be determined largely by their middle school math attainment. The research is clear that math attainment matters. In fact, research by the U.S. Department of Education finds that taking math beyond algebra II doubles the odds of a student earning a bachelor’s degree.[iv]
Of greatest concern is research around how schools serving low-income students may respond to proposed changes. According to research from the U.S. Department of Education, low-income students were far more likely to attend high schools that did not offer math above algebra II than their higher-income peers.[v] According to the researchers, “one can see the ripples of opportunity – or lack of opportunity – that start in high school offerings.”[vi]
It is understandable why providing multiple pathways to satisfying the Michigan Merit Curriculum requirement would be attractive and could be seen as expanding the range of available postsecondary opportunities. Yet, what the research shows is that in an effort to open this door, Michigan would inadvertently close another door for underserved students, who are likely to return to a time where they lacked access to the rigorous educational opportunities afforded to their higher-income peers.
For these reasons, we hope that you will not support these proposed changes.
[i] [i]College Board, “SAT Suite of Assessments: Mathematics Level 2 Subject Test.” https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat-subject-tests/subjects/mathematics/mathematics-2.
[ii] Achieve, Inc. “Building Blocks of Success: Higher Level Math for All Students,” (Washington, DC: Achieve, Inc., May 2008). https://www.achieve.org/publications/building-blocks-success-higher-level-math-all-students
[iii] Marni Bromberg and Christina Theokas, “Meandering Toward Graduation: Transcript Outcomes of High School Graduates,” (Washington, DC: The Education Trust, April 2016). https://midwest.edtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MeanderingTowardGraduation_EdTrust_April2016.pdf
[iv] Clifford Adelman, “Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and
Bachelor’s Degree Attainment,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, June 1999). https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/Toolbox/index.html
[vi] Clifford Adelman, “The Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion from High School Through College,” (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, February 2006). https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/toolboxrevisit/toolbox.pdf