High school courses across the country vary by content and level even when the course title is similar. Therefore, to compare the thousands of transcripts collected from different schools included in the HSTS, and to ensure that each course is uniquely identified, a common course coding system was developed. The HSTS uses a system called the Classification of Secondary School Courses (CSSC). This system, which now includes more than 2,200 course codes, is a modified version of the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) that is used for classifying college courses.
Both academic courses, such as mathematics and science, and vocational courses, such as home economics and bookkeeping, are classified in the coding system. The system is also adaptable so that new or revised courses, such as web design and Java programming, are easily incorporated. The list of CSSC codes is examined with every new study to ensure that the courses currently taken by students can be classified appropriately. This takes into account, for example, the increase in computer science classes taken by students since 2000.
Highly trained coders are tasked with evaluating the CSSC for needed updates. Coders look through the course catalogs and match the appropriate CSSC codes to the courses offered, according to the content and description of the course. If an offered course does not seem to fit into an existing CSSC code, the coders draft a new coding description in a suggestion list. A coding specialist reviews the suggestion list and re-examines the existing CSSC codes. The specialist helps to determine if new CSSC codes should be generated as suggested by the coders.
This CSSC evaluation process maximizes the chances that all current courses are included in the analysis of high school transcripts. In turn, this ensures that findings generated from the study cover a wide range of courses and coursetaking patterns, and that the HSTS is better equipped to show the relationship between coursetaking and academic achievement.