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2007 Spotlight

High School Coursetaking

Coursetaking Patterns

Credits Earned

From the early 1980s, when states began to increase the number of courses required to receive a high school diploma, the average number of credits earned by high school graduates increased from 21.7 credits in 1982 to 25.8 credits in 2004 (see table SA-3). When looking at the number of credits earned by subject in 2004 versus 1982, graduates earned an average of 4.3 versus 4.0 credits in English, 3.6 versus 2.7 credits in mathematics, and 3.2 versus 2.2 credits in science. The amount of college-preparatory coursetaking in mathematics and science also increased markedly between 1982 and 2004. For example, the average number of credits that graduates earned in algebra and more advanced mathematics courses increased from 1.9 to 3.1; in chemistry, it increased from 0.4 to 0.7; and in physics, it increased from 0.2 to 0.4.

These increases in credits earned in mathematics, English, and science have not coincided with a decline in other coursework. In fact, credits earned in other subjects have increased. For example, comparing 1982 and 2004, graduates earned an average of 3.2 versus 3.9 credits in history/social studies, 1.4 versus 2.1 in arts, and 1.1 versus 2.0 credits in foreign languages (see figure 3). The only subject area in which the number of credits earned has decreased over this time period is vocational coursetaking. Vocational coursetaking decreased, from an average of 4.4 credits earned in 1982 to 3.5 credits earned in 2004. Vocational courses are organized educational programs, services, and activities that are directly related to the preparation of individuals for paid or unpaid employment, or for additional preparation for a career that requires certification or training other than a bachelor’s or an advanced degree.

These general increases in credits earned since 1982 are, in large part, a product of more graduates taking more advanced courses. In mathematics, for example, between 1982 and 2004, the percentage of graduates who completed a year of geometry increased from 47 to 76 percent, the percentage who completed a semester or more of algebra II increased from 40 to 67 percent, and the percentage who completed a semester or more of analysis/precalculus increased from 6 to 28 percent (see table SA-4).10 Similarly, in science, the same trends are evident: during these years, the percentage of graduates who completed a year of chemistry increased from 32 to 64 percent, the percentage who completed a year of physics increased from 15 to 33 percent, and the percentage who completed a year each of biology, chemistry, and physics increased from 11 to 26 percent.

Coursetaking varied by students’ sex and race/ethnicity over time and within each year. In 1982, on average, females earned 0.35 more total credits than males (see table SA-3). However, by 2004, no measurable differences were detected. In 1982, males earned 0.14 more credits in both mathematics and science than did females, but by 2004, no measurable differences were detected.

In 1982, on average, Asian/Pacific Islander graduates earned more total credits than graduates of any other race/ethnicity. By 2004, these differences were no longer evident. However, in both 1982 and 2004, Asian/Pacific Islander graduates earned more credits in both mathematics and science than did graduates of any other race/ethnicity.


10These data report only the percentage of students who earned credit in each course while in high school and do not include a count of those courses taken prior to entering high school. In 2004, approximately 95 percent of graduates had taken algebra I before or during high school. (back to text)

Figures and Tables

Figure 3: Average number of Carnegie units earned by high school graduates in various subject areas: 1982 and 2004

Table SA-3a: Average number of Carnegie units earned by high school graduates in various subject areas, by selected characteristics: 1982 and 2004

Table SA-3b: Average number of Carnegie units earned by high school graduates in various subject areas, by selected characteristics: 1982 and 2004—Continued

Table SA-4a: Percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004

Table SA-4b: Percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004—Continued

Table SA-4c: Percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004—Continued

Table SSA-3a: Standard errors for the average number of Carnegie units earned by high school graduates in various subject areas, by selected characteristics: 1982 and 2004

Table SSA-3b: Standard errors for the average number of Carnegie units earned by high school graduates in various subject areas, by selected characteristics: 1982 and 2004—Continued

Table SSA-4a: Standard errors for the percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004

Table SSA-4b: Standard errors for the percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004—Continued

Table SSA-4c: Standard errors for the percentage of high school graduates, by selected mathematics and science courses in high school: Selected years, 1982-2004—Continued

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education