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New Admission Requirements at the University of California?

Niu Gao, Hans Johnson May 21, 2018
Diverse middle school STEM students examine a human heart model during science lab.

The University of California (UC) is considering revising its eligibility standards for admission, focusing on requirements for science education. California changed its K–12 standards in this area five years ago, when the State Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). UC must decide whether and how to align the NGSS with the a–g requirements—a set of courses students must complete in order to be considered eligible for admission to UC. A change in science requirements was proposed by the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools and was approved by the UC Academic Senate earlier this year.

The NGSS has profound implications for science curriculum and instruction in high schools. Currently, to meet the a–g requirements, students must take two science courses from three core disciplines: biology, chemistry, and physics. But the NGSS includes four science categories: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and applications of science.

Changes approved by the UC Academic Senate include increasing the minimum science requirement from two to three years. UC would continue to require two years of work in at least two of three disciplines: biology, chemistry, and physics. Students may take a third course within these disciplines or in other science disciplines identified by the NGSS.

If the UC Regents vote on and approve the recommendations of the UC Academic Senate, the change will take effect in the fall of 2023—meaning that students entering high school in the 2019–20 school year will be subject to the new requirements. (CSU is in the process of updating its science requirements—which are currently similar to those of UC—and may follow UC’s guidelines.)

Some high schools would need to make changes to align their curriculum with the NGSS. One area of concern is the relatively low number of course-offerings in science among small and rural schools. PPIC’s work has shown that not every high school offered the entire a–g sequence in science in 2016–17; small and rural schools were much less likely to do so. Another area of concern is staffing, as a teacher shortage has left California schools struggling with large class sizes for years. Finally, ensuring awareness of these changes will be important. Parents and students should be informed of the new requirements with adequate time and detail to be able to plan accordingly.

Under NGSS, science course sequencing in high school may affect whether and how students meet the proposed a–g requirements. PPIC researchers are examining early implementation of the NGSS in the K-12 system and will discuss findings in an upcoming report. Moving forward, more research is needed to understand the implications of any new a–g requirements for high school graduates’ eligibility for UC and CSU.

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