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Posted on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 2:16 p.m.

Study reveals impact of tougher graduation requirements on Michigan high schoolers

By Danielle Arndt

Fewer students are graduating from high school on time due to the state's Michigan Merit Curriculum, according to a new study.


A new study looks at the effects of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, started in 2006, on high school graduation rates in Michigan. file photo

The Michigan Consortium for Educational Research analyzed data from 700,000 students enrolled in Michigan's public high schools to examine the effects of the state's tougher graduation requirements, which went into effect in 2006.

The merit curriculum requires all high schoolers to take Geometry, Algebra I, Algebra II, Biology I, either physics or chemistry, four years of English and two years of a foreign language.

The first cohort of students covered by the curriculum entered ninth grade in fall 2007 and would have been scheduled for an on-time graduation in spring of 2011.

However, "the merit curriculum appears to have prompted some students to extend their stay in high school beyond the traditional four years, perhaps in an effort to meet the more rigorous curricular requirements," the study found.

The introduction of the merit curriculum reduced graduation rates slightly for students who entered high school with weak academic skills, according to the study. For those who had strong skills to begin with, the curriculum did not have an impact on their high school completion rates, according to the analysis released today by the Consortium for Educational Research.

The statewide average four-year graduation rate fell from 72 percent to 70 percent in 2011 and the five-year dropout rate rose slightly.

The study shows the merit curriculum reduced the five-year graduation rate among lower-achieving students by about 4.5 percent (from 49 percent to 44.5 percent).

The best-prepared students saw better performance in science, reading and math, the study revealed; but all students experienced declines in writing scores.

"The findings of this first study are important and must be seen as a diagnostic tool for our teachers, administrators, and education leaders," State Superintendent Michael P. Flanagan said in a news release. "The Michigan Merit Curriculum is the right direction and must be maintained. We need to delve deeper now and see how we can help schools deliver it successfully to every student in Michigan."

The merit curriculum also resulted in personnel changes across Michigan's high schools, with schools employing more teaching staff in the areas of math and science.

"Between 2004 and 2011, the overall number of high school teachers in Michigan fell. However, with the introduction of the MMC it appears that schools and districts focused their limited resources on teachers who taught core academic subjects," Kenneth Frank, a professor at Michigan State University's College of Education, said in a release.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 9:54 p.m.

Of course fewer students are graduating from high school on time when so many do not plan on going to college but want a decent education, not one filled with advance math classes, etc. Have a curriculum standard for the kids that want the learn trades. Instead of Algebra II, require personal finance. We need welders, masons, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and so many other trades people. The wages are very good and those who want to work with their hands can have decent standard of living.

Tom Bower

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

Contrary to the description in the third paragraph of the article, the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC) specifically is not time based. It does not require "years" of anthing. Rather, it is skills based. This gives schools and students a great deal of flexibility in fulfilling its requirements. It recognizes that each student learns and develops proficiencies in an individual manner. Some students take more time, and some students take less time. In fact, the state requires school districts have in place processes that allow students to demonstrate proficiency and earn the required credits by testing out. Unfortunately, many school districts have not recognized the MMC's detachment from the traditional time-centric notion of public education. These districts continue to view secondary education as a four year process, even though many students are capable of completing the MMC requirements and transitioning into higher education in a much shorter period of time, if given the opportunity to do so. A primary factor limiting innovation is that the current system of funding K-12 education incentivizes retention of students; once students graduate and move to higher education a school district no longer receives any funding for those students. According to the Michigan Department of Education, here's what the MMC requires: Mathematics - 4 credits: Algebra I, Algebra II, Geometry, one math course in final year of high school; English Language Arts - 4 credits; Science - 3 credits: Biology, Physics or Chemistry, one additional science credit; Social Studies - 3 credits: .5 credit in Civics, .5 credit in Economics, 1 credit U.S. History and Geography, 1 credit World History and Geography; Physical Education and Health - 1 credit; Visual, Performing and Applied Arts - 1 credit; Online Learning Exerpience; Language other than English - 2 credits in grades 9-12, or an equivalent learning experience in grades K-12 effective for students entering third grade in 2006


Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

When I was in high school I did fine in Algebra I and Geometry but was really unable to do Algebra II. I switched to something more fitting for me but if I had been required to take it, I too would have been taking it twice or more. I took AP classes and went on to college--I was not dumb, just not suited to math. When they passed this tough requirement I thought "good, we need well educated kids but I would bet more underachievers will drop out because they just can't cope with those difficult classes," and that defeats the whole idea of more education for all. What are the dropout rates by city in Michigan? I agree with DonBee: make good training for trades an equally honorable choice for all kids, maybe at the end of 9th grade. We need plumbers and mechanics and welders as well as liberal arts majors.


Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 11:44 a.m.

hard to really say if this has to do with this program or society in general more people than ever are on food stamps thanks to the economy and the poor leadership in washington. PLEASE do not think about dumbing down the schools for those that are not really interested in it anyway.

Susie Q

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 1:05 a.m.

The reason that there are more math and science teachers now is that it takes some "lower-skilled" students 2 or 3 times longer to pass Algebra 1 or 2 than other more highly-skilled students. They might "fail" Biology or Algebra 1 and have to re-take it. The schools aren't choosing "to focus more resources" on the core academic areas.....they HAVE to. Elective classes like art, PE, computer technology are being eliminated because these struggling students no longer have time to take them. This is not a comment in favor of or in opposition to the new reality; just a comment. Some kids need to take Biology three times in order to pass it.

Heidi Koester

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 12:15 a.m.

"The statewide average four-year graduation rate fell from 72 percent to 70 percent in 2011." Does this mean that 30% of those who entered high school in Fall 2007 did not graduate in Spring 2011? How does this compare to other states? And how do local districts compare to this state average?


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 7 p.m.

Schools should focus their resources on core academic subjects. If you have good proficiency in math, reading, writing, and the sciences mastery of everything else is attainable. All it takes is interest and desire.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 6:59 p.m.

While I agree we need strong standards, I have to wonder are we doing the right thing? In Germany and several other countries, schools are broken up by future direction for the student. College prep for some, technical prep for others (welders, mechanics, etc) and general education for others (e.g. retail, drivers, etc). Society needs all of these skills to function. Median salary for someone with a BA in English is about $16 an hour. You have to wonder how you pay back student loans on that kind of a salary. At the same time a welder with a 2 year degree and welding certification can make similar wages and have much less in the way of student loans. Last year according the BLS about 40% of BAs in English who graduated did not have a job, at the same time welders graduating with a 2 year degree had a 3% no job on graduation rate. Sometimes I wonder - do we have the right education focus?


Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

J. A. Pieper - When I was in high school in a normal small town system, it was not called tracking but choice. Students starting in 9th grade had choices they could make about what they wanted to do with their life. Teachers and others would encourage students to make good choices for them. Today there is little or no choice in schools like AAPS - woodshop, metal shop, printing, welding, and other vocational classes are mostly gone. Students have to wait until they graduate to start on any job skills, meaning they have to depend on student loans to get even the basic job skills. Is this what we want from our schools - college or debt? Or is it College+debt or debt? Is that the way the educational establishment wants it? SEC Fan - nothing says you have to choose in 4th grade. In fact in Germany you can switch to another program all the way to your 16th birthday - it means working to catch up, but you can.

J. A. Pieper

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 12:42 a.m.

DonBee, it makes sense to me, but in our schools today, especially here in AAPS, this would be considered "tracking" and it can't be done in a politically correct community.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 10:29 p.m.

DonBee- I"m a huge fan of guiding the young into trade schools. Which trade school have you decided is best for your child? How early in your child's life did you find that your child was displaying the relevant skill set (welding, for example) that particular trade school was looking for? PS Trade schools are a great idea...for everybody else's kid.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

agree, but still think 4th grade is a bit early to make that assessment.


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 6:57 p.m.

I m not serprzd kidz riting skiilz gone down, LOL!


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 6:41 p.m.

Numerous States have the same requirement. For Michigan to be competitive, keep it up. If little Johnny requires more time to pass, so be it (within reason). If little Johnny decides it's too tough - welcome to Darwinism. If too many little Johnnies take too long to pass or fail - more drastic "personnel measures" at the schools and an examination of support at home is warranted.

J. A. Pieper

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 12:40 a.m.

Key idea here is "an examination of support at home is warranted." AAPS, and many other districts just might not want to consider this. We are told that there is nothing we can do about it so it is considered True, But Useless. Good luck!


Mon, Oct 22, 2012 : 7:05 p.m.

Totally agree. Even Mississippi requires these classes to graduate...