The American education system


For parents, to have their children in a different educational system from the one they know, or they are used to, it is often difficult to manage and a source of stress, especially when kids progress through the school years and the educational challenges increase.

To know the system in its general lines and key points can definitely be an advantage that helps student take the right path to reach their goals!

The American school system ranges from elementary (or primary) school to high school.

Elementary school comprises grades K to 5. Middle school goes from grade 6 to 8 (in some school districts grade 6 can still be part of elementary school). Last but not least High School goes from grades 9 to 12 .

The basic teachings of primary education include writing, reading, mathematics and science as well as some basic knowledge in history or geography (some schools are now more focused on science and Math programs then they used to be).

The middle school system is far more complex, it is extremely important for it helps the students make the transition between elementary and high school. Sixth grade is a smooth and easy passage between primary and middle school, with 3 to 4 core teachers for English/Language arts’ , Mathematics, Science and History & Social Studies. Kids start getting some control over their curriculum in 7th grade as classes start to be divided into different levels, one example is mathematics where more advanced students get to study the subject more in depth or to move forward faster. There also are numerous co-curricular and extra-curricular subjects to choose from, and it is very important to choose carefully since these choices will be the first step to building an interesting student profile! To choose for example Chinese as foreign language or to add journalism as a co-curricular subject as well as being involved in sports or acting can really make a difference in a student’s education.

In High School the curriculum becomes harder and students are confronted with choices that will directly influence their future.

They get to choose between a myriad of possibilities in numerous subject areas but even if students seemingly get a lot of freedom, the truth is that there are specific classes that need to be taken in order to build a strong profile to be considered by potential colleges.

There are basic subjects necessary to graduate from high-school a minimum level of achievement in mathematics (Algebra II) as well as in English and world studies is required. Apart from these basic requirements the choice depends on personal goals as well as on personal expectations!

To receive a high school diploma, students must fulfill state and district graduation requirements. State-mandated graduation course requirements (the state minimums) follow:

Three years of English

Two years of mathematics (including Algebra I)

Three years of social science (including U.S. history and geography; world history, culture, and geography; one semester of American government; and one semester of economics)

Two years of science (including biology and physical science)

Two years of physical education

One year of foreign language or visual and performing arts

Students who successfully complete Algebra I in middle school must still complete a minimum of two years of mathematics in high school. Recognizing that these 13 years of preparation are state minimum requirements, local school boards often set local graduation requirements that exceed the state-mandated requirements.

If a student wishes to join a prestigious college, the curriculum becomes much more challenging for example: 4 years of Mathematics and a foreign languages are absolutely necessary.

There is a California High School Exit Exam ( also called CAHSEE) that a student needs to pass to get through High School. Students first take this test in grade ten. If they do not pass the test in their sophomore year they have several other chances to take it in grade 11 and 12.

To be an active and engaged student is another determinant factor for a student wishing to get into college and it has nearly as much important as academics. To participate in volunteering programs or to join different students clubs both could be interesting choice that would contribute to a strong profile!

A student’s academic GPA (GPA is the grade point average for the marking period. The GPA is calculated by taking the number of grade points a student earned in a given period of time divided by the total number of credits taken) is extremely important but it is also necessary for a student to be involved in the school community, to volunteer and communicate in order to improve the high school’s environment.

To choose an AP (advanced placement) class or Honors class can help students improve their profile and GPA. The AP program was created in order to offer more challenging courses to capable high school students. An introductory college level course is offered followed by an examination in May, students are rated on a five points scale.

Every High School has a number of different AP and honors classes to pick from. The student can decide to take the AP exam without following the AP class if that class is not offered in his/her High School and if said student has the level of skill and knowledge required (for example Italian AP is not offered in numerous schools across the bay but a native Italian speaker can choose to take the test without taking the preliminary class)

Some High Schools offer the possibility to follow an IB program, international Baccalaureate, that offers an academically challenging curriculum emphasizing the philosophy of learning and the integration of disciplines. The IB diploma is designed for the last two years of high School but it can be supported by a curriculum beginning as early as in primary school, just to build step by step an IB student profile!

Taking the SAT or the ACT, is required for freshman entry to many, but not all, universities in the United States.

The SAT Reasoning Test intended to assess a student’s readiness for college , a 1490 (out of 2400) places a student at the median of college-bound seniors. Fifty percent score 1490 and above; 50 percent score below. Fifteen percent score above 1850; 7 percent score above 2000; only 2 percent score 2200 and above. And a only 384 students secure perfect 2400s.

To prepare for the SAT in the best way and have a higher chance to score well a complementary course is recommended for high school students, just to to assimilate the techniques needed to achieve the best results.

The ACT is another kind of test for High School achievement and college admission. The ACT assessment measures high school students’ general educational development and their capability to complete college-level work with the multiple choice tests covering four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The optional Writing Test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay. On the ACT the median score is approximately 20 points (out of 36). Only five percent score above 30 points, and a score of 33 puts a student in the top percentile. Unfortunately, however, these are broad and general numbers. Truly understanding a score requires a closer look.

College application require a lot of work and building a profile takes many years, colleges will take into account the following: what the student has done during High School years, academic curriculum and GPA plus all the experiences that can form a curious and open minded student. Extracurricular activities, College Essays, Volunteer hours and The SAT or ACT score complete the requirements of a strong application.

It is really important in such a competitive school system to always avoid stressing out young kids to achieve goals non adapted to children and keep in mind that is important to take college application and high level education step by step from primary to High School. It is not necessary to go too fast and frustrate kids, good choices are subjective, what is enriching and fun for one child can be extremely difficult and unadapted for another!

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid Albert Einstein





A picture taken during the conference organized by Enjoy Silicon Valley in Los Altos on the American education system




5 thoughts on “The American education system

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