Learning Checklists
September 2007
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Challenging High School for All

Make Sure Your Child Is Ready

High school is the training ground for college and work. You can help prepare your child for college by encouraging him or her to take challenging courses such as English, math (algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, for example), foreign language, science (biology, chemistry, physics, for example) and history or social studies. Taking these challenging courses will not only help your child succeed in college, but may also qualify him or her to receive scholarships available from the U.S. Department of Education, your state, private foundations and colleges.

Foster your child's independence, but continue to be aware of your child's studies and after school activities. High school activities, such as sports, band, school plays, internships or community service, will help build skills needed on the job, such as responsibility, time management, confidence and leadership. Continue to stay involved with the school as your child progresses through high school.

"Getting every child to graduate high school with a meaningful diploma... is one of the biggest challenges our country faces."
—Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

One Parent's Story

Anthony wanted to be a member of the band. His teacher told him that unless he made good grades, he could no longer participate in the band. Anthony loved music. His mother noticed that she no longer had to tell Anthony to do his schoolwork. Anthony had an incentive to do well. He wanted to remain in the band.*

*This anecdote is based on an interview with a parent conducted during the preparation of the Empowering Parents School Box. The story is for illustration only. The child's name has been changed to protect his privacy.

Know What Your High School Child Needs to Succeed

Look for programs designed to help students succeed in college by teaching study skills, providing tutoring and helping students apply to college. Remember, college is a critical goal for what your child does in high school and for success in life. Those with a four-year college degree may earn more than 40 percent of what high school graduates earn.7 Some high schools offer Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or early college courses that might allow your child to skip some of the beginning-level courses in college, and, perhaps, graduate early. Charter schools or magnet schools, which focus on themes, such as science and technology or the arts, may help to encourage your child's talents and interests.

7 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers: Fourth Quarter 2005," USDL 06-098, Jan. 19, 2006.

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs: ( offered at some public schools, most often at the high school level; coursework is challenging, and students may receive college credit for scoring well on tests offered by the program.

Keep on Reading

Continue to make sure your child is reading. Maintaining reading levels is important, and there are many ways to ensure your child does not fall behind. Check with the school to see if your child is reading on grade level. There are also programs under No Child Left Behind to help older students maintain their reading levels. The Striving Readers program is available for high school students. The purpose of the program is to raise the reading achievement levels of students in schools with significant numbers of students reading below grade level.

Whether or not there is a Striving Readers program in your child's school, continue to encourage reading. Knowing how to read smoothly and quickly and being able to understand facts and ideas are critical skills for all subject areas, including math and science.

Partner With Teachers and Counselors

Get to know your child's teachers and counselors. Attend school "open houses." Request parent-teacher conferences when needed. To communicate with teachers:

  • Find out the best time to contact them by telephone;
  • Ask for teachers' e-mail addresses so you may contact them outside of school hours (teachers are usually not available during school hours);
  • Find out about Web sites where teachers may list class notes and homework assignments;
  • Look for school newsletters in print and online; and
  • Sign-up to receive e-mail announcements.

Know that counselors:

  • Handle class registration and schedules;
  • Can help if there are problems at home, such as divorce or illness, which could affect your child's school work;
  • Have information on how and where to get college financial aid; and
  • Can tell you when college entrance exams are given, especially the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT).

Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT): a college entrance test to measure the critical thinking skills needed for academic success in college.

American College Test (ACT): a college entrance achievement test that seeks to measure what students have learned during high school.

One Parent's Story

Mia was having difficulty completing her homework. For several days, her mother watched her struggle. She reached out to Mia's teacher, who suggested tutoring as an option. Mia's mother concurred and found a tutor for Mia.*

*This anecdote is based on an interview with a parent conducted during the preparation of the Empowering Parents School Box. The story is for illustration only. The child's name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Consider Safety

Under No Child Left Behind, a student may leave a school that the state says is "persistently dangerous." Or, if your child is the victim of a violent crime at school, he or she may attend another public school in the same school district. To get your child through the high school years safely:

  • Pay attention to your child's behavior and friends;
  • Tell your child to leave valuables at home and to keep things locked up (theft is the most common school crime8);
  • Be aware if your child's grades drop or if your child is sad or angry;
  • Talk to your child about any concerns you may have;
  • Consult with counselors, social workers, school psychologists or others trained in solving these types of problems;
  • Stay involved with the school;
  • Be informed through your school's parent-teacher organization and the school newsletter or Web site; and
  • Continue to be an advocate for your child and other students in the process.

8 U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2005, Washington, D.C.

Tips on Paying for College

The Federal Student Aid (FSA) program provides grants, loans and work-study assistance to students and parents with financial need, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition, low-income students who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum may be eligible for Academic Competitiveness Grants of up to $750 during the first year of college and $1,300 during the second year of college, as long as the student maintains a minimum grade point average. Low-income college juniors and seniors who major in mathematics, science, technology, engineering or critical foreign languages may be eligible for National SMART Grants of up to $4,000 per year.

In addition to applying for federal financial aid, students and families are encouraged to pursue scholarships available through colleges, businesses, civic groups and churches. In addition, families may want to learn more about tax-advantaged college savings plans and other sources of college aid.

Academic Competitiveness Grants: ( students/english/AcademicGrants.jsp) need-based grants available to first- and second-year college students who have completed a rigorous high school curriculum as determined by state and local agencies and recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education; recipients must maintain at least a 3.0 grade point average.

National SMART Grants: ( students/english/SmartGrants.jsp) need-based grants available to those who are third- and fourth-year undergraduates who are majoring in "physical, life or computer sciences; mathematics, technology or engineering; or a foreign language critical to national security."

When Your Child Turns 18

When your child turns 18 years old or enters a college or university at any age, the rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) transfer from you to your child. A student to whom the rights have transferred is known as an "eligible student." Although the parents' rights under FERPA transfer to the eligible student, FERPA provides ways in which a college or university can share education records on the student with his or her parents.

Under FERPA, colleges and universities, at their discretion, may release any and all information to parents, without the consent of the eligible student, if it has been determined that the student is a dependent for tax purposes under the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. Also, schools can disclose information from education records to parents if a health or safety emergency involves their son or daughter. Another provision in FERPA permits a college or university to let parents of students under the age of 21 know when the student has violated any law or policy concerning the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance. Nothing in FERPA prohibits a school official from sharing with parents information that is based on that official's personal knowledge or observation.

Academic Performance at the 12th Grade

The NAEP exams are also given at the 12th grade. These tests, taken by a sample of students from across the country, give a "national report card" of what students know. Although specific curriculum and standards are set by each state, and vary from state to state, the following NAEP achievement levels can give you an idea of what to expect your child to know and be able to do in reading,9 mathematics10 and science11 when your child is in the 12th grade. These achievement levels build on those for the fourth and eighth grades, but the knowledge is more in-depth and complicated. These NAEP achievement levels are taken from the frameworks in reading, math and science at the "proficient" level.

9 (2005)
10 (2006)
11 (2002)


Twelfth-grade students, when reading material written at the 12th-grade level, should be able to accomplish the eighth-grade requirements plus:

  • Give answers to questions about what they have read that are thorough, thoughtful and extensive;
  • Judge reading material critically; and
  • Analyze the author's use of literary strategies.

Twelfth-grade students should be able to select strategies to solve problems and integrate concepts and procedures. They should be able to:

  • Interpret an argument, justify a mathematical process and make comparisons dealing with a wide variety of mathematical tasks;
  • Perform calculations involving similar figures including right triangle trigonometry;
  • Understand and apply properties of geometric figures and relationships between figures in two and three dimensions;
  • Select and use appropriate units of measure as they apply formulas to solve problems;
  • Use measures of central tendency and variability of distributions to make decisions and predictions, to calculate combinations and permutations to solve problems and to understand the use of the normal distribution to describe real-world situations;
  • Identify, manipulate, graph, and apply linear, quadratic, exponential and inverse functions;
  • Solve routine and nonroutine problems involving functions expressed in algebraic, verbal, tabular and graphical forms; and
  • Solve quadratic and rational equations in one variable and solve systems of linear equations.


Twelfth-grade students should be able to:

  • Know the themes of science (models, systems and patterns of change) required for understanding the earth, physical and life sciences and know how these themes illustrate essential relationships among the sciences;
  • Analyze data and apply scientific principles to everyday situations;
  • Have a working ability to design and conduct scientific investigations;
  • Select and use simple laboratory equipment and write down simple procedures that others can follow;
  • Analyze data in various forms and use information to provide explanations and to draw reasonable conclusions;
  • Have a developmental understanding of both physical and abstract models and be able to compare various models;
  • Recognize some inputs and outputs, causes and effects, and interactions of a system and be able to correlate structure to function as parts of a system that they can identify;
  • Recognize that rate of change depends on initial conditions and other factors;
  • Apply scientific concepts and principles to practical applications and solutions for problems in the real world; and
  • Show developmental understanding of technology, its uses and its applications.

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Last Modified: 06/19/2008