What Your Child Is Expected to Learn in High School

By Amanda Morin

At a Glance

  • In high school there’s a big emphasis on reading and thinking critically.

  • High-schoolers are expected to write research papers and give oral presentations.

  • High-schoolers learn that math problems can be solved and explained in more than one way.

High school is a time of increasing independence—not just socially and emotionally, but academically too. High-schoolers have more choices about which classes they take and when. The goal is for them to graduate with the skills they need to be ready for college or a career.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which 45 states have adopted, are a set of defined expectations in reading, writing, language, listening and mathematics. They apply to kids grades K–12. The standards lay out the skills students need to learn each year in grade school and middle school.

High school skills are grouped together by topic or in two-year chunks. This allows for flexibility in class design. For example, in high school students might take a class that spans two school years, such as Global History 1 and Global History 2. By grouping the expected skills, teachers can be strategic about when they work on those skills throughout a course.

Learning to apply knowledge to real-life situations and becoming an independent thinker are important high school skills. To keep your child on track for graduation and beyond, here are some of the highlights of what your child is expected to learn in high school, according to the CCSS.

High School Skills: English Language Arts and Literacy

In high school, kids are expected to be critical readers and writers. They read classic works of literature like The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck, and The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. They also read modern pieces like The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. They compare, contrast and examine the different types of writing and look for common themes. They also focus more on historical texts like George Washington’s Farewell Address.

High school students’ writing focuses less on summarizing and more on providing thoughts and opinions about what they’ve read and learned. High-schoolers also work on editing and writing multiple drafts of reports and papers. The following activities are used to strengthen language and literacy in high school:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of figurative language and how it’s used in writing to give a text more than one meaning

  • Talk or write about what they read; support ideas and opinions using specific examples about the text (what’s explicitly stated in it and what’s implied)

  • Analyze the reasoning used in historical documents

  • Take a side or point of view on an issue; support it using reasoning, facts and other evidence

  • Do short- and long-term research projects; present the information not only in writing, but also orally, with graphics or as a video presentation

  • Participate in group discussions by listening, presenting ideas and responding to other people’s thoughts

High School Skills: Mathematics

In high school, kids build on the skills they learned in middle school to gain a more in-depth understanding of algebra and geometry. They use math to solve real-world problems and start seeing how mathematical ideas connect to one another. Activities like these support high school math skills:

  • Create and solve math problems that have two or more unknown variables (such as 20 = x + 5y) or that have multiple terms (such as 5xy + 2xy ‒ 7), using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division

  • Understand the difference between correlation and causation

  • Recognize that math problems can be solved in more than one way

  • Use mathematical functions and formulas to describe the relationship between two numbers

  • Use probability to predict what will happen and to make sense of data

  • Prove mathematical statements (theorems) using formulas and statements that are known to be true

Keep in mind that all students struggle with learning from time to time. But if your child has been struggling for a while, it’s a good idea to consider speaking with his teachers. It’s never too early—or too late—to ask for extra help for your child. Classroom accommodations, apps and other tools and even some simple changes at home could make a big difference.

Key Takeaways

  • High-schoolers learn math skills that help make sense of data.

  • Focusing on figurative language helps high-schoolers grasp more than one meaning in a text.

  • If your child is struggling, it’s never too early—or too late—to start asking for extra help.

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