Schooling is compulsory for all children in the United States, but the age range for which school attendance is required varies from state to state. In South Dakota, students are required to attend school until they reach the age of 18. Public (free) education is typically from kindergarten to grade 12 and is thus referred to as K-12.
Most parents send their children to either a public or private institution. Approximately 85% of students enter the public schools. Most children begin elementary education with kindergarten (usually five to six years old) and finish secondary education with twelfth grade (usually eighteen years old). Parents may also choose to educate their own children at home; 1.7% of children are educated in this manner.
Preschool and Pre-Kindergarten
Preschool encompasses non-compulsory classroom-based early-childhood education prior to the age of five to six. Pre-kindergarten (also called Pre-K or PK) is the preschool year immediately studied before the year of Kindergarten, which is typically studied at age five to six.
Typically, the curriculum in public elementary education is determined by individual school districts. The school district selects curriculum guides and textbooks that reflect a state's learning standards and benchmarks for a given grade level. Learning Standards are the goals by which states and school districts must meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
In general, a student learns basic arithmetic and sometimes rudimentary algebra in mathematics, English proficiency (such as basic grammar, spelling, and vocabulary), and fundamentals of other subjects. Learning standards are identified for all areas of a curriculum by individual States, including those for mathematics, social studies, science, physical development, the fine arts, and reading. While the concept of State Learning standards has been around for some time, No Child Left Behind has mandated that standards exist at the State level.
Secondary education is often divided into two phases, middle or junior high school and high school. Students are usually given more independence, moving to different classrooms for different subjects, and being allowed to choose some of their class subjects (electives).
Middle School / Junior High
"Middle school" or "junior high" in our community includes sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
High school runs from 9th through 12th grades. Students in these grades are commonly referred to as freshmen (grade 9), sophomores (grade 10), juniors (grade 11) and seniors (grade 12). Generally, at the high school level, students take a broad variety of classes without special emphasis in any particular subject. Students are required to take a certain mandatory subjects, but may choose additional subjects ("electives") to fill out their required hours of learning. High school grades normally are included in a student's official transcript, e.g. for college admission.
Each state sets minimum requirements for how many years of various mandatory subjects are required; these requirements vary widely, but generally include 2–4 years of each of: Science, Mathematics, English, Social sciences, Physical education; some years of a foreign language and some form of art education are often also required, as is a health curriculum in which students learn about anatomy, nutrition, first aid, sexuality, drug awareness, and birth control. In many cases, however, options are provided for students to "test out" of this requirement or complete independent study to meet it.
Many high schools provide Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These are special forms of honors classes where the curriculum is more challenging and lessons more aggressively paced than standard courses. AP or IB courses are usually taken during the 11th or 12th grade of high school, but may be taken as early as 9th grade. Some international schools offer international school leaving qualifications, to be studied for and awarded instead of or alongside of the high school diploma, Advanced Placement, or International Baccalaureate.