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The senior year of high school has special social and ceremonial status in American communities. Many schools honor their seniors with special events, more lax regulation and supervision, and lighter academic schedules. These special privileges started back when most students did not either plan for or need to prepare for higher education. It marked the end of their education, not the transition to another phase.

Rather than celebrate, some researchers argue that we should be deeply concerned because this hold-over means that 25 percent of the high school experience is a huge waste of time, opportunity, and money. The reasons for this “wasted senior year” are many: For the vast majority of high school seniors, they have completed their state accountability testing, early college admission decisions have relieved grade pressures, their college admissions testing is finished, and they earned most of the credits they need for graduation. As a result, few seniors grow academically, and many regress, resulting in a difficult transition to postsecondary expectations.

The research is pretty clear, however, that students who take a more rigorous high school curriculum have higher educational attainment and earnings. Further, a student’s transition to college is enhanced when they are challenged academically, and they are more likely to persist and complete their degrees.

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