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It’s time to reform the 12th Grade

April 21, 2011
Over the last two years there has been a lot of conversation about the need for “reforms” in public education. According to political leaders from President Obama, to Education Secretary Duncan, to Governors Granholm & Snyder to State Superintendent Flanagan we need to “reimagine” how we educate our children.  This call for reform is typically backed up with stories about how the America education system is losing ground to other countries and not producing students capable of competing in the 21st century global economy.  Seldom is the conversation followed by clear policy directives…. add in a healthy dose of reduced funding and we have the recipe for conflict, but also an environment that is ready for change.

In thinking of the issues, I see one area where it is clearly time to change the system we currently use…. the 12th grade.  Many of us look back on our senior year in high school and have fond memories of social experiences as we transitioned to college or the workforce.  Typically, the majority of the academic rigor occurs in the junior year along with key assessments like the ACT & SAT which can have a significant impact on college admission options.  This leaves the 12th grade experience ripe for reform.

I feel the 12th grade should change to be a true year of transition.  It should emphasize  exploring – and starting – the next phase of a child’s education.   This needs to go beyond college visits and meeting with counselors.  A college like schedule with syllabi’s and required accountability should be experienced.   By the end of a student’s senior year they should have been enrolled in at least one college course.  We are fortunate to have quality colleges and universities in our region – it’s time we leveraged that resource to the fullest potential for the benefit of our students.

In Saline, our students do benefit from dual enrollment options, college credit earning Career & Tech Ed courses, and numerous Advanced Placement opportunities – but we can and should do more.  With the blurring of the lines regarding how we as a state fund K-12 and higher ed – now is the time to blur the lines for our students and effectively transition them to their next learning environment.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Patti permalink
    April 21, 2011 11:46 am

    Thanks Scot for being so forward thinking and coming up with ideas that will enhance education without necessarily costing more money. The Senior Capstone course already nudges kids in this direction, combined with a class or two at UM/EMU – what an excellent way for students to spend their senior year. My child will probably have the opportunity to graduate early, but if he can stay at SHS and get a challenging, quality college-like experience that would be a perfect situation.

  2. David Zimmer permalink
    April 21, 2011 7:23 pm

    Interesting post, but the message seems to be very inconsistent with the recent post from Mr.Laatch about the High School Administrations interest in protecting our children from undo stress.

    This concern for the level of stress of our children was the reason cited for the School Administation to reject the use of weighted value for honors classes (and the interest of many administators to eliminate the recently approved weighted value for AP classes as well.)

    The posting from Mr. Laatch was that the School Administration is concerned about excessive stress on our High School population and he referenced the movie “Race to Nowhere” as one of the key foundations for this thinking.

    So now the District is thinking, to not reward students who push themselves academically within the High School setting by denying them nationally recognized practices of weighted value, (education in a setting where their social development is with their peers), but is now pushing seniors into the college setting a year before their social maturity is ready for this next level of personal responsibility?

    Given the history of the district, one would suspect that the driver for this post might be budget driven?

    Because if our seniors take classes at the Jr. College or University level, while still attending Saline Schools, you get the foundation value and parents also pay college tuition, and you get to cut out classes and lay off teachers as a result?

    Please expain this apparent contridiction in balancing social maturity with academic challenge which appeared to be so key to the decision to not weighted honors classes, when now you are suggesting that 17 year old kids should be put on a campus with 22 year adults?

  3. Jay P. Goldman permalink
    April 22, 2011 12:35 pm

    Scot … Very timely and significant topic in your latest blog post! I hope you are an AASA member as we are devoting much of the June issue of The School Administrator magazine to revamping the senior year (we say “resuscitating” on the front cover). We’ve got several progressive thinkers involved as contributors and a few articles about the early college high school initiative that seems to be taking hold in some school districts. I think you will find it of interest and hopefully practical value.
    Keep up your thoughtful blogging!
    Jay P. Goldman
    Editor, The School Administrator

  4. April 22, 2011 4:18 pm

    Mr. Zimmer,

    I feel this message is consistent with our collective interest in supporting students and addressing issues around stress. My thinking related to the need to reform what the 12th grade currently looks like in Saline and schools across the country is focused on providing an effective transition. Based on a variety of factors, including feedback from former SHS students, we see the need for students to begin to experience educational settings that are different than the traditional 5 day a week class.

    This may or may not mean that students would dual enroll or otherwise attend classes on a college campus. As a point of information, each year we have students that dual enroll and attend college courses on college/university campuses. Overall, the feedback from these students has been positive. They have benefited from the exposure to the campus setting and did not have issues with social maturity.

    Reforming the senior the year may mean that students begin to take courses like the Capstone class that is being offered next fall. The issue of looking at improving the transition from 12th grade to the next level is not a budget decision as you suggest it might be – it’s about looking at approaches we can use to develop college readiness skills focused on academic behaviors and contextual skills.

  5. David Zimmer permalink
    April 22, 2011 6:44 pm

    I agree on all points, and the research also supports this perspective.

    Which is why the decision to deny weighted value for honors classes is so inconsistent with this philosophy.

    As you may recall, the research is overwhelming in favor of weighted value for Honors classes, our students overwhelming support the use of weighted grades for honors classes, and 12 of 14 colleges our children attend support weighted value for honors classes. As is the case with the dual enrollment model, the research shows that the decision to enroll in honors classes is a decision best made by parents, counselors and the students themselves.

    So why does Administration feel the need to discourage the attendence of students in honors classes? Follow a practice that is not supported by research? Have a grading system that puts our students at a competetive disadvantage to other similar school districts and have a grading system that is not supported by the views of our students?

    Seems like adoption of a common academic philosophy would be beneficial for our community. The use of dual enrollment, senior capstone classses and weighted value for AP and Honors classes is consistent with the best practices of High Schools of the caliber of Saline.

    I encourage you to adopt a common integrated academic philosophy at the High School level, your current approach does not appear to meet this objective.

    For your consideration.

  6. April 23, 2011 8:43 am

    As a parent of two students who recently graduated from Saline I see the benefits to adding options to the senior year. Both of my children went on to four year universities and dealt with social transition issues. They were very prepared academically and are on track to graduate in 4.5 years.

    I applaud the district for this whole child approach. I also feel a community service project for all 12th grade students is a good idea.

  7. Paul Hynek permalink
    April 23, 2011 11:46 pm

    AP classes are administered by the College Board and offer standardized courses to high school students that are generally recognized to be equivalent to undergraduate courses in college. The key word here is “standardized”. Conceptually, AP classes are the same from coast to coast. Honors course do not always carry that distinction. Honors courses are enriched; they generally offer the same material as a “standard” class, but in greater depth and with a faster pace with an emphasis on students who have a keen interest in the subject matter. Which is why in many cases, if they are weighted at all, it is at half the weight of an AP class. All students should be encouraged to take the most rigorous classes they can regardless of the “reward”. If this issue was such a “slam dunk” then every school district in the country would adopt weighted grades uniformly. Then, the next issue would be, how does my student rise above the others to get into the college they desire. Or, how can I game the system to be back on top ? Truth be told, the national average on weighting grades is probably around 50/50, maybe 55/45, with some districts actually removing weighted grades after having approved them earlier. Ultimately, the issue is really decided on local circumstances. Since no college admissions office will reveal the exact details of how they decide who is accepted and who is not, I’m sure they will all agree – take rigorous courses.

  8. April 24, 2011 1:29 pm

    Scot, I would be interested in how you see this playing out with regards to the new state requirements.
    Two years ago, when my son graduated from high school, he had much more flexibility (and needed fewer credits) to graduate. Helping my daughter plan her schedule for next year, I find that she is *required* (for instance) to have a math class in her final year of school, even though she already has four years of math, including analysis, because she started algebra in middle school. So it’s hard for me to reconcile what you are saying (and what I agree with–that planning for 12th grade as a transition year is a good idea) when there are many more restrictions/requirements.

  9. April 25, 2011 1:32 am

    Interesting point. I didn’t attend high school in this country, so I had no idea how senior year was treated. I remember sweating bullets on my final exam in June in my senior year. At my last job, I had a high school senior who wrote some sports for us, and I was shocked at how available he was and how light his workload was. He was a bright student who received many academic accolades, yet for him, senior year classes were inconsequential.
    He was smart, making the most of the light classload by taking dual enrollment classes at a local college and by working part-time in the field he planned to study.
    I’m not one to bash public education every chance I get, but there are some real soft spots, even in the best school districts. Senior year is one.
    Two months off in summer is another.

  10. April 25, 2011 6:33 am


    Good points. The Michigan Merit Curriculum does require more “core” credits than many schools had required prior to the its implementation. I feel to some degree the MMC was developed in response to a similar feeling that that there was a “lull” in the system at 12th grade. Thus, requiring math and English as seniors.

    In your case, that math course could be one that is taken in the college setting. Depending on the level, etc. it would likely provide college credit and along the way she could experience the college setting. Most likely, every math class she has taken in high school has meet 5 days a week. They probably had a similar format that included a review of homework, a new lesson, some in class work, then homework/practice. Breaking that process up in a college setting with a 2 or 3 day a week class might reveal study habit issues that could be worked on prior to arriving at a college or university.

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