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High school sophomores in 2002 were more likely to spend more time on homework, more likely to be in a college preparatory program, and more likely to envision a college degree at the end of their educational careers than their counterparts in 1980. Results from United StatesHigh School Sophomores: A Twenty-Two Year Comparison, 1980–2002 , a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) also finds that while student achievement in math and English increased since 1980, most of the gains were obtained between 1980 and 1990, with very little improvement from 1990 to 2002.

Compared to their counterparts in 1980, high school sophomores in 2002 had higher aspirations for themselves after high school. Based on the data, 80 percent of the 2002 sophomores expected to obtain a four-year college or postgraduate degree after high school, an increase of 39 percentage points over 1980. Among student racial and ethnic groups, 86.9 percent of Asian Americans, 81 percent of whites, 76.9 percent of African Americans, 75.9 percent of American Indians, and 72.6 percent of Hispanics reported that they expect to obtain their college degree, at minimum.

However, well over half of these students will likely fail to achieve their goal. According to research published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, only one-third of all ninth grade students leave high school with a diploma and with the abilities and qualifications to even be considered for admission to a four-year college. Among minority students, the percentages are even lower, as only 23 percent of African-American students and 20 percent of Hispanic students leave school college-ready, compared with 40 percent of white students.

To their credit, high school sophomores in 2002 worked harder in high school in an effort to better prepare themselves for college. In fact, between 1980 and 2002, the percentage of high school sophomores who were in a college preparatory or academic program increased by 18 percent. In addition, sophomores in 2002 spent more time on homework, with 37 percent devoting more than ten hours per week to homework versus 7 percent in 1980. In 2002, 77 percent reported spending at least three hours a week on homework, compared to 54 percent in 1980.

Some of the students’ hard work appears to have paid off. In 2002, high school sophomores posted higher scores in math than their counterparts did in 1990 and 1980, but the amount of improvement declined from 1990 to 2002. In 2002, sophomores had a mean math score of 37.6, versus 36.5 in 1990 and 32.8 in 1980. A closer look at racial and ethnic subgroups reveals that while American Indian, Asian-American and white students continued to improve from 1990 to 2002, black students saw their scores level off, and Hispanic students’ scores actually declined.

In reading, the percentage of high school sophomores who achieved at “level 1”—an ability to demonstrate skill in simple reading comprehension, including reproduction of detail or the author’s main thought—declined from 91.1 percent in 1990 to 89.4 percent in 2002. Level 1 is the most basic of the three levels measured by the report.

The complete report is available at


Advancing Literacy: Carnegie Corporation of New York Launches New Website


In 2003, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, in collaboration with the nation’s leading practitioners and researchers, conducted an extensive review of education research around literacy instruction. The survey revealed that the knowledge base around the teaching of reading was very limited after the third grade. As a result, the Corporation created “Advancing Literacy,” a subprogram of its education division and charged it with the challenging task of advancing literacy by affecting policy, practice, and research. As part of that effort, the Corporation recently launched a website devoted to disseminating research and to sharing effective practices for teaching reading to older students.

In addition to providing tools for policymakers, parents, and educators, the website also includes resources on the current state of adolescent literacy. They explain why adolescent literacy matters and which adolescents are most at risk.

As part of its Advancing Literacy program, the Corporation plans to continue to identify, evaluate, fund, and promote information sharing, research, and policy initiatives designed to remediate the crisis in adolescent literacy until it sees evidence that the crisis has been resolved.

More information is available at


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