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Back to May Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 160 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS MAY 1999

High School Students Tune Out Senior Year

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Previous generations of high school students eagerly anticipated their senior year. They enjoyed their lofty status on campus, planned their senior proms and other activities, and worked to finish up course requirements in preparation for graduation. Today, high school seniors in increasing numbers are tuning out and turning off. Such factors as early college placement, premature "exit exams," and outside employment are among factors blamed for the shift.

A March 23 article in the Wall Street Journal notes that many high school seniors have secured their seats in college before the end of the first semester. The SATs are given in October, and many colleges now offer "early decision," a process by which seniors get "priority acceptance" into a college and are "locked in" to their decision by December.

Observers say high school exit exams also play a role in creating apathy, with most states administering the tests in the 10th or 11th grades. Tennessee's exit exams are given in the 9th grade for what 8th graders should know. New Jersey tests 11th graders based on 10th-grade skills. The only 12th graders taking exit exams are those who failed the earlier tests.

Some educators say that too much emphasis is placed on students passing just enough courses to graduate rather than on taking courses that are appropriate for their success. The result is that only one in five seniors enrolls in tough math classes such as trigonometry and only one in four take challenging science courses such as physics. According to the Wall Street Journal, 37% of seniors graduate with less than the minimum requirements, and 23% just meet them. Nearly a quarter of all freshmen entering four-year public colleges need at least one remedial education course.

The fact that more than half of all U.S. teens hold paying jobs also distracts from their studies, and this statistic has been used to explain why American youngsters do so poorly on international mathematics and science tests. In contrast, a mere 17% of Japanese teens and 7% of French students are employed. Statistics also show that American teens aren't working to help out at home or save for college.

The Department of Education found that 80% of high school seniors contribute little or none of their income to family expenses, while only one in four puts money away for college.


 
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