Lindsay Rosenthal and Ulrich Bolser have produced a new report for the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan research institute. The report examines and concludes that the American school system needs to find new ways to engage students; to engage students by challenging them.  Rosenthal and Ulrich worked from the student surveys that are part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments, the Nation’s Report Card. The assessments include questionnaires for students about their classroom experience.

Among the findings:

  • Many schools are not challenging students and large percentages of students report that their school work is “too easy.”
    • In order for students to be successful in the competitive global economy, they need to be exposed to a rigorous curriculum. But many students believe their class work is too easy. Twenty-nine percent of eighth-grade math students nationwide, for instance, report that their math work is often or always too easy.
    • In some states like Virginia, nearly a third of middle-school students reported their work was often or always too easy.
    • This finding was consistent across grades and subject matter. For example they found that 51 percent of eighth-grade civics students and 57 percent of eighth-grade history students report that their work is often or always too easy.


  • Many students are not engaged in rigorous learning activities.
    • Almost a third of eighth-grade students report reading fewer than five pages a day either in school or for homework and many eighth-grade students report that they rarely write long answers to reading questions on tests.
    • Thirty-nine percent of 12th-grade students say that they hardly ever write about what they read in class.


  • Students don’t have access to key science and technology learning opportunities.
    • To be prepared for college or the modern workforce, today’s students need experience with high-quality curriculum materials in critical subject areas like mathematics and science. Most teenagers say their schools don’t provide learning opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  72 percent of eighth-grade science students say they are not taught about engineering and technology.


  • Too many students don’t understand their teacher’s questions and report that they are not learning during class.
    • Across the nation, less than two-thirds of middle school mathematics students report that they feel like they are always/almost always learning in mathematics class. Fewer than 50 percent of 12th-grade mathematics students said they feel like they are always or almost always learning in their mathematics class.
    • Students also often report difficulty understanding their teacher’s questions. Twenty-five percent of middle school mathematics students report that they sometimes or hardly ever understand what their teacher asks. Thirty-six percent of 12th-graders report they sometimes or hardly ever clearly understand what their mathematics teacher asks.


  • Students from disadvantaged background are less likely to have access to more rigorous learning opportunities.
    • All students deserve a high-quality education, but the researchers’ experience indicated that disadvantaged students seldom have robust learning opportunities.


The authors’ analysis leads to the following recommendations:


  • Policymakers must continue to push for higher, more challenging standards.
  • Students need more rigorous learning opportunities, and the nation needs to figure out ways to provide all students with the education that they deserve.
  • Researchers and educators should continue to develop student surveys.



Over the past few years, many states have engaged in promising reforms that address the issues we raise in this report. But our findings suggest we need to do far more to improve the learning experience for all students. We hope that the interactive state-by-state maps available on our website—together with the findings and recommendations in the following pages—will inspire engagement with students’ perspectives in the search to find new and better ways to provide students with the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed.”


Source: Do Schools Challenge Our Students?


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