K-12 Curriculum and pupil assessment

What is the K-12 system and how are pupils assessed along the way? Relocate takes a look at how the US education system differs from other countries around the world.

The K-12 system stands for ‘from kindergarten to 12th grade’. This equates roughly to a school starting age of around five through to Grade 12 at around the age of 18. The system is broken down into three stages: elementary school (Grades K–5), middle school (Grades 6–8) and high school (Grades 9–12).
Year in EnglandAge of studentGrade in the US
Year 15–6Kindergarten
Year 26–7Grade 1
Year 37–8Grade 2
Year 48–9Grade 3
Year 59–10Grade 4
Year 610–11Grade 5
Year 711–12Grade 6
Year 812–13Grade 7
Year 913–14Grade 8
Year 1014–15Grade 9
Year 1115–16Grade 10
Year 1216–17Grade 11
Year 1317–18Grade 12
In the United States, education is primarily the responsibility of state and local government. Every state has its own department of education and laws regarding finance, the hiring of school personnel, student attendance and curriculum. States also determine the number of years of compulsory education – in some states, education is only compulsory until the age of 16.Register now for Autumn 2022!However, with the layering of tests issued by mandates from Congress, the US Department of Education, and state and local governments, the system is becoming confusing and unwieldy. Standardised testing in schools has become a controversial issue, with a recent study from the Council of the Great City Schools suggesting that students would sit around 112 standardised tests between kindergarten and 12th grade.In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which pledged to offer the same standard of education to every child in the US “regardless of race, income, background, the zip code, or where they live”.The act replaced the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and, among other things, is an attempt to bring back some element of control with the recommendation for having fewer tests, of higher quality. States are required to test students in reading and maths in Grades 3 to 8, and then once during their high-school years.GIESF-in-text-bannerUnlike other countries’ end-of-school examination systems, such as the A Level in the UK or the globally recognised International Baccalaureate Diploma, US students leave school with a collection of assessments that demonstrate their readiness for either college or work.Although some schools issue a high-school diploma on satisfactory completion of Grade 12, this is not a standardised qualification and the requirements are set by individual states. At the end of high school, pupils are also provided with a Grade Point Average (GPA), which can help to determine their next step either into work or college.The GPA is an average score taken from a student’s high school career as a result of tests, mid-term/final exams, essays, quizzes, homework assignments, classroom participation, group work, projects and attendance. Students can also receive a class rank, placing his/her GPA among other members of his/her grade.
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Common Core standardised testing in the US

Even though every state is in charge of its own education laws and initiatives, the US federal government has made attempts to standardise the curriculum across US schools through the introduction of the Common Core.According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the Common Core is a set of “high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy” and outlines what a student should know, and be able to do, at the end of each grade.The standards were created to “ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life”. Some 42 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity voluntarily adopted the Common Core, although a handful of states have now withdrawn from the Common Core and adopted their own sets of standards.However, the introduction of the Common Core tests to measure pupils’ performance against these academic standards, layered on top of existing state-run academic tests, college entrance tests and Advanced Placement tests, has caused confusion and accusations of duplication of assessment. Even President Obama has been forced to accept that the pressure of over-assessment in schools has become unbearable.“I hear from parents who, rightly, worry about too much testing,” he said in a statement, “and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that.”Once pupils and teachers have had time to adjust to the new system, one clear advantage is that the standards are internationally benchmarked, which means that the US standards can be compared with the standards of other countries around the world. And the tests are also standardised so that results can be compared across states, whereas previously it was impossible to compare standards nationally as each state had their own system of testing.While states will no longer have to incur the cost of developing their own testing methods, many believe that the new Common Core system will also increase teaching standards and better prepare students for life after high school.This article was originally published in September 2016.

Relocate Global’s new annual Guide to International Education & Schools provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in the UK and in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. 

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