As Snoqualmie Valley considers altering the grade configurations in our school district, some readers suggested it would be interesting to look at a few things before separating the 9th graders from Mount Si High School. If a Freshman Learning Center is created, it seems Snoqualmie Valley parents would expect these things for their student(s) on a 9th grade campus:
- To retain the courses and course levels currently available to all Snoqualmie Valley freshman today, especially those considered “core” by local universities.
- To match the level and courses provided to all 9th graders in surrounding school districts – including what was made available at Issaquah’s Pacific Cascade Freshman Campus (PCFC) and what’s made available on the state’s only current 9th grade campus at Yakima’s West Valley High.
- To align our Freshman Learning Center’s course offerings, as well as course levels, with the core courses found on the UW and WSU admissions applications AND provide the level of rigor for those courses that enable students to be part of what universities call their “competitive applicant pool.”
What Do Colleges Want to See?
The UW, WSU and the CollegeBoard list five courses as the “core.” UW and WSU applications have blank fields under each high school grade level (9th-12th) where the applicant must fill in the core course, course level taken and the grade received for such course. Links to these college applications are provided later this article.
Here are those “core” courses:
- Language Arts/English
- Lab Science
- World Languages
- Social Studies/Social Science
Arts, including fine, visual and performing, are also considered important courses.
Many Washington State colleges warn that their applicant pool goes well beyond all minimum requirements. They state that meeting minimum requirements only makes high school students eligible to have their application reviewed – that meeting the minimum requirements is not the same as being a competitive applicant. More selective schools, such as UC Berkeley, say that to gain admission applicants need to present an academic profile much stronger than that represented by the minimum admission requirements.
In addition to exceeding requirements, “Above average grades are needed in these classes. It isn’t just about enrolling in them, but also being successful in them.” says Kiersten Murphy, M. Ed, of Murphy College Consultants. She also shares that “colleges often recalculate a student’s high school GPA by simply looking at the core classes and omitting the fluff.”
Other college counselors agree. “It does no good to take a slew of AP courses and get a “C” or “D” in each,” says Mark Montgomery, PhD, College Counselor from Montgomery Educational Consulting of Colorado, former Associate Dean at the University of Denver and admissions counselor for Fort Lewis College. He goes onto say, “Therefore, to calculate a student’s core GPA, we have to remove the fluff.” He adds, “We have to calculate the GPA based solely on the five academic solids that constitute a high school student’s performance. The core GPA is your “real” GPA.”
CollegeBoard says, “The academic rigor of your child’s high school courses is an important factor in the college admission process. To create that foundation, your child should take at least five solid academic classes EVERY semester — starting with the basics and then moving on to advanced courses.” CollegeBoard also identifies the same five core classes listed above as their “five solid academic classes” and considers them “standard fare” whether your child plans to attend a “four-year or two-year college.”
How Do School Districts Align Their Curriculum With What Colleges Want To See?
Advanced Placement (AP): Snoqualmie Valley currently offers 10th-12th grade students many AP classes. The course description guide says these are the most rigorous academic courses taught, with a challenging regiment of reading, writing and/or mathematical components. Our school district provides these courses to all and suggests that students who are motivated, disciplined and pointed towards college preparatory should consider enrolling in AP courses.
Social Studies: Districts such as Lake Washington, Kent, Bellevue, Federal Way and Issaquah currently have a social studies requirement for 9th graders that align with the core. Snoqualmie Valley does not currently have a 9th grade social studies requirement. It does offer a 9th grade half-year geography elective course, but most students begin social studies in 10th grade as World History or AP World History.
Math: In the above mentioned school districts, the majority of students complete Algebra 1 or Geometry by the end of 8th grade. In fact, at Yakima’s 9th grade campus 10% of students take Algebra 2, a sometimes high level sophomore course taken once geometry is completed. Because so many students are now taking Algebra 1 and Geometry in middle school, the University of Washington’s application now includes a column for indicating which math courses an applicant took in 7th and 8th grade.
Some universities like USC, Florida State and Michigan State provide college prep websites that provide high school course recommendations for students pursuing a future 4-year college degree. They all suggest taking Algebra or Geometry in 7th and 8th grade. The links to those websites can be found below. The US Department of Education also says 8th graders should “continue taking advanced courses such as Algebra and an intermediate foreign language class.”
World Language: The Kent School District offers Spanish, French, Japanese, German , Mandarin and
American Sign Language (ASL). Mount Si High offers Spanish, French, Japanese and German to all students and will introduce American Sign Language next year. Whereas many colleges require 2 years of foreign language, some moderately selective ones advise typical competitive applicants take 4 or 5 years.
Students can achieve 5 years foreign language study if they take a year during middle school. Students havethis option at Yakima’s West Valley High. The school district promotes 4 to 5 years of world language to its students. Therefore all 8th-12th graders have access to it. They say “it takes 4 or 5 years to become conversant and proficient in a language.” Closer to home, Issaquah 9th graders only get one elective course. According to the district counseling office, nearly all freshmen take foreign language as that one elective. The US Department of Education also says, “Enroll in algebra or geometry classes [in 9th grade] and a foreign language for both semesters.”
Kiersten Murphy also adds, “Highly selective colleges expect to see a student take at least five core academic subjects each year including foreign language. A student should take the most challenging courses available at their high school and excel in them. This means that a student should do advanced coursework, such as AP or IB classes when available. Even if you do not plan to apply to the most selective colleges, you will still want to impress your future college by taking the most challenging coursework to demonstrate that you have passion and an interest in learning.”
High Tech Electives, Fine Arts and Music: Snoqualmie Valley offers many high school high-tech electives. Beginning fall 2012, Mount Si 9th graders can choose from newly expanded courses, such as Introduction to Computer Science which teaches algorithm development and programming. Sophomores can take AP Computer Science where they will prepare for the CollegeBoard AP computer science exam. Other popular freshman high-tech courses include: Video Foundations, Animation Foundations, Digital Imaging Foundations and Web Design. Additionally, a variety of fine arts and music courses are offered to all students.
Some parents feel there should be answers to these key questions before separating 9thgraders from our high school:
- Will all 9th graders retain the courses and course levels that current freshmen have access to today at MSHS?
- Will all 9th graders have access to the core courses that match those of other 9th graders in neighboring school districts – including the arts and music?
- From the list of courses made available from Issaquah’s 9th grade campus, which of those will SVSD provide on campus for its 9th graders so that students are similarly aligned to be competitive college applicants? See list of PCFC courses.
- How will this be done?
College-Prep Info and Recommendation Links:
What’s a Good Academic Record for College Admissions?
Washington State GEAR UP See page 23. GEAR UP is a link off of UW’s Get Ready for College page, and co-written with office of the Governor of Washington State.
The Snoqualmie Valley School Board will be voting this Thursday, March 8th, regarding whether to proceed with plans to convert Snoqualmie Middle School to Mount Si’s 9th grade campus. The move would shift current SMS students to either Twin Falls Middle School or Chief Kanim Middle School in 2013. If you would like to share your thoughts with school board members you can find their email addresses here.
** Special thanks to Stephanie Hager and Kiersten Murphy for collaborating and researching to help make this story possible. **