Senior Year In High School Is Complex But Lacks Impact on College Persistence

  The Consortium for Chicago School Research has been conducting intensive studies of the Chicago public schools senior year of high school through both quantitative and qualitative methods. They are presenting several new papers at AERA in San Diego next week. Here is a preview of one of them by Eliza Moeller and Karen Riddie.



The picture of senior year in the Chicago Public Schools that emerges from this work is confusing. Several findings stand out from this analysis. First, the level of challenge and engagement experienced by students in our qualitative sample is overall quite low, though there is also significant variation in students’ experiences. Second, with the exception of students in the Advanced College Prep category, having a transcript with more advanced courses in senior year does not appear to be related to the level of challenge and engagement a student feels in his or her classes. Third, while English courses appear to provide students with at least one challenging course and math courses can range from very challenging to not challenging at all, Career and Technical Education coursework contributed significantly to students’ perception that senior was the easiest year of high school. Finally, students’ perception of challenge and engagement both within and across their courses senior year appeared to be strongly associated with the school students attended – more so than the coursework they completed.


Though these findings are counter-intuitive in many ways, they may help shed light on the findings from the first paper in this series. Specifically, that analysis concluded that though taking more advanced courses in senior year had a significant impact on students’ access to college, it had less of an impact on college persistence. If it is indeed the case that students who took more advanced coursework did not experience a more challenging senior year, then it may also be the case that these students – though appearing more qualified on paper – did not actually engage in a deeper level of skill-building that would have prepared them better to succeed once enrolled in college. Further analysis is being conducted on these findings, and this will be the subject of an upcoming report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research.


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