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HIGH SCHOOL TRANSCRIPT STUDY: Study of 2009 High School Graduates Reveals Importance of a Rigorous Curriculum to Future Success

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"Rigor in high school is closely linked to success afterwards, and this study confirms that we need higher secondary standards across the board. In particular, we need stronger requirements in math and science."

Released on April 13 by the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study finds that the percentage of high school graduates completing a “rigorous” curriculum, which includes higher-level math and science courses, increased from 5 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2009. At the same time, the percentage of students who took less than a “standard” curriculum of at least four credits of English and three each in social studies, mathematics, and science, declined from 60 percent in 1990 to 25 percent in 2009.

Defining Curriculum LevelsThe High School Transcript Study classifies student course-taking by three curriculum levels:

 

Standard: At least four credits of English and three each in social studies, mathematics, and science.

Midlevel: In addition to standard requirements, geometry and Algebra I or II; at least two courses in biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least one credit of a foreign language.

Rigorous: In addition to midlevel requirements, an additional credit in mathematics including pre-calculus or higher; biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least three foreign language credits.

 

Graduates completing a rigorous curriculum earned the highest NAEP mathematics and science scores. According to the report, America’s High School Graduates: Results of the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study, graduates whose first high school math course was geometry scored 55 points higher on the NAEP mathematics assessment than graduates who took a class below Algebra I. Similarly, graduates who completed chemistry in ninth grade scored 27 points higher on NAEP science than graduates who took earth science. In general, high school graduates who completed a rigorous curriculum had average NAEP scores at the proficient level, while graduates completing a standard or midlevel curriculum placed at the basic level on NAEP.

“These findings demonstrate a clear connection between course rigor and achievement, and they argue strongly for students to take a more challenging curriculum in our high schools,” said David P. Driscoll, chair of NAGB, which sets policy for NAEP. “Rigor in high school is closely linked to success afterwards, and this study confirms that we need higher secondary standards across the board. In particular, we need stronger requirements in math and science.”

When broken down by race and ethnicity, the percentages of students who completed less than a standard curriculum declined for all student groups. As shown in the table below, the percentage of Hispanic students who completed below a standard curriculum decreased from 69 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2009, while black students completing below a standard curriculum declined from 60 percent to 21 percent-four percentage points better than white students.

StraightAs_table20110418c

But while black graduates were less likely to complete below a standard curriculum than their white classmates, they, as well as Hispanic graduates, were also less likely to complete a rigorous curriculum than white graduates. Meanwhile, at 29 percent, Asian graduates were most likely to complete a rigorous curriculum.

“The state-led effort to develop common core state standards in English language arts and math could not come at a better time,” said Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “By adopting common standards, states now have defined what a rigorous curriculum looks like and what is needed to succeed in college and careers. But adopting the standards and providing rigorous courses isn’t enough; students also need the support and resources necessary to succeed.”

Overall, high school graduates from the Class of 2009 earned an average of 27.2 credits, compared to 23.6 credits in 1990, the first year of the High School Transcript Study. This trend of additional credits earned holds true when the results are broken down by sex, race, and ethnicity. Each credit represents 120 hours of classroom instruction, meaning that 2009 graduates received more than 400 hours of additional instruction time, compared to their 1990 counterparts. Graduates’ average grade point average also increased from 2.68 in 1990 to 3.00 in 2009.

The High School Transcript Study is based on transcripts collected from more than six hundred public schools and 130 private schools. The transcripts constitute a nationally representative sample of 37,700 public and private high school graduates representing approximately three million high school graduates from the Class of 2009.

The complete report is available at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2011462.pdf.

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