The US education system explained

For families moving to the US, the education system can appear bewildering. With far-reaching policy changes likely under the new President, Donald Trump, Rebecca Marriage takes a look at everything from the K-12 programme to SATs, ACTs and Advanced Placement.The US spends more than $620 billion on K-12 education each year. That’s an average of about $12,296 for every student enrolled in elementary and secondary public schools. However, in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings, the US took 24th place for reading and 36th for maths.During the presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump proposed an investment of $20 billion of federal funds in opening up school choice. His aim was to give every inner-city child the freedom to attend the school of their family’s choice. Mr Trump plans to make schools compete to provide the best services for children.

Common Core standardised tests

Although the American education system is unlike that of many other countries in that education remains primarily the responsibility of state and local government, the US federal government has attempted to standardise the curriculum across 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.However, standardised testing in schools has become a controversial issue in the US, with a study from the Council of the Great City Schools suggesting that students would sit around 112 standardised tests between kindergarten and 12th grade.Before his election, Donald Trump described Common Core as a total disaster. However, with the controversial appointment of Betsy DeVos, reportedly a supporter of Common Core, as Secretary of Education, it remains to be seen whether the President will attempt to remove Common Core and give control back to the local level.

K-12 education system

What is the K-12 system, and how are pupils assessed along the way?Unlike other countries’ end-of-school examination systems, such as the A Level in the UK, the French Baccalauréat, or the globally recognised International Baccalaureate Diploma, US students leave school with a collection of assessments that demonstrate their readiness for college or work.K-12 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).Testing takes place throughout the year, to ensure that pupils are on track. 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.Former President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act 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.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 into work or college.

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