You Can’t Judge a Course by Its Title

Photo: File:UFV MATH CONTEST (13906939040); Photographer: Rick Collins of UFV; Lic.: CC BY 2.0

**Previously recorded by Phyllis Schlafly // July 2011 **

More students than ever are earning credits for advanced classes, according to a Department of Education study released in April. The Department’s National Center for Education Statistics examined 38,000 high school transcripts and found that the proportion of graduates completing rigorous coursework rose from 5% in 1990 to 13% in 2009. Is that good news on the education front? Not so fast. Despite taking courses with challenging-sounding titles, 17-year-olds aren’t scoring any higher on federal standardized tests than they did in 1973. SAT scores are flat since 2000, offering further evidence that kids aren’t learning any more today.

Why the disconnect? According to researchers, many course titles pretend to offer more advanced and rigorous than their course content really does. The new Algebra II is the old Algebra I; College Preparatory Chemistry is just plain old Chemistry. Course-title inflation is easier to document in math and science classes, said researchers, but they suspect it is happening in English and other subjects too.

Researchers suggest several possible reasons for the course-title inflation. Administrators want to help students satisfy tougher high school graduation requirements. Parents want to believe their children are taking demanding coursework. Administrators also look good when more students take ambitious-sounding classes. A researcher who has studied the problem in Texas compared the practice to a food marketer labeling a can of orange soda as orange juice. “Like the misleading drink labels, course titles may bear little relationship to what students have actually learned.” I think colleges should give entrance examinations and, if a student doesn’t pass, send him back to high school to learn what he should have learned in high school.

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