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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2007-039
September 2007

Appendix B: Supplemental Notes

There are various ways to measure the academic coursework that students complete. For example, one can measure the number of courses a student has completed in different subjects (e.g., whether a student completed two, three, or four courses in mathematics). If one is interested in how common it is for students to complete certain courses, one can measure the percentage of high school students who have completed those courses. Yet another method is to measure the highest level of coursework completed in different subjects (e.g., whether a student's most academically challenging mathematics course was algebra I, trigonometry, or calculus). Based on these three methods, analysts have created different measures to categorize high school coursetaking. This supplemental note describes the coursetaking taxonomies used in indicator 12.

All of the coursetaking data used in indicator 12 come from transcripts of graduates of public and private high schools, which were collected as part of the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), and the High School & Beyond study (HS&B). It is important to note that comparability cannot be perfect both because (1) the Secondary School Taxonomy (SST), was revised in 1998, (2) these data come from different transcript collections, thus introducing the possibility of minor variations in the coding methodology even though steps were taken to replicate the data collection and coding methodology in each study, and (3) these data used slightly different sample selection criteria when determining high school graduation status.

The high school courses taken by students are organized according to the Classification of Secondary School Courses (CSSC) and the Secondary School Taxonomy (SST). All courses in a student's transcript are coded with a CSSC value after checking course titles on the student's transcripts with course catalogs from the student's high school describing the contents of those courses. These coded courses are then assigned to broader course groupings, forming the academic levels in each subject area, using the Secondary School Taxonomy (SST).

Course credits are expressed in Carnegie units. A Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement used for secondary education that is equivalent to the completion of a course that meets one period per day for one school year, where a period is typically at least 40 minutes.

Transcript studies are a reliable source of information but they do have limitations. One limitation is that transcript studies can describe the intended—but not the actual—curriculum. The content and instructional methods of one course taught in one school by a certain teacher may be different from the content and instructional methods of another course classified as having the same CSSC code taught in another school, or even the same school, by a different teacher. Nevertheless, validation studies and academic research have shown significant differences between the highest level of academic courses completed by students and their scores on tests of academic achievement (Chaney, Burgdorf, and Atash 1997).

Academic Pipelines

Academic "pipelines" organize transcript data in English, science, mathematics, and foreign language into levels based on the normal progression and difficulty of courses within these subject areas. Each level includes courses either of similar academic challenge and difficulty or at the same stage in the progression of learning in that subject area. In the mathematics pipeline, for example, algebra I is placed at a level lower in the pipeline continuum than is algebra II because algebra I is traditionally completed before algebra II and is generally less academically difficult or complex.

Classifying transcript data into these levels allows one to infer that high school graduates who have completed courses at the higher levels of a pipeline have completed more advanced coursework than graduates whose courses fall at the lower levels of the pipeline. Tallying the percentage of graduates who completed courses at each level permits comparisons of the percentage of high school graduates in a given year who reach each of the levels, as well as comparisons among different graduating classes.

In classifying students' courses from their transcripts according to a pipeline, only the courses completed with a passing grade in a subject area are included and not courses attempted. The inability to identify the number and types of courses attempted is due to inconsistent school reporting procedures. For example, many students retake courses they fail. In these instances, some schools report all courses attempted, while others report only the last course taken, substituting the passing grade. The pipeline also does not provide information on how many courses graduates completed in a particular subject area. Graduates are placed at a particular level in the pipeline based on the level of their highest completed course, regardless of whether they completed courses that would fall lower in the pipeline. Thus, graduates who completed year 3 of (or 11th-grade) French did not necessarily complete the first 2 years.

Mathematics Pipeline
Science Pipeline
English Pipeline
Foreign Language Pipeline

Mathematics Pipeline

Originally developed by Burkam and Lee (NCES 2003-01), the mathematics pipeline progresses from no mathematics courses or nonacademic courses to low, middle, and advanced academic coursework. Each level in the pipeline represents the highest level of mathematics coursework that a graduate completed in high school. Thus, a graduate whose highest course is at the low academic level progressed no further in the mathematics pipeline and did not complete a traditional algebra I course, a prerequisite for higher level mathematics in high school. The mathematics pipeline has eight levels; however, two of these levels can be combined to create a "middle academic level," and the top three levels can be combined to create an "advanced academic level."

No mathematics

Includes graduates who completed either no coursework in mathematics or only basic or remedial-level mathematics. It is thus possible for a graduate to have taken one or more courses in mathematics, but to be placed in the no mathematics level.

Nonacademic level

Highest completed courses are in general mathematics or basic skills mathematics, such as: general mathematics I or II; basic mathematics I, II, or III; consumer mathematics; technical or vocational mathematics; and mathematics review.

Low academic level

Highest completed courses are preliminary courses (e.g., prealgebra) or mathematics courses of reduced rigor or pace (e.g., algebra I taught over the course of 2 academic years). Considered to be more academically challenging than nonacademic courses, courses at this level include prealgebra; algebra I, part I; algebra I, part II; and geometry (informal).

Middle academic level

The middle academic level is divided into two sublevels, each of which is considered to be more academically challenging than the nonacademic and low academic levels, though the first level is not considered as challenging as the second level.

Algebra I/geometry level
Highest completed courses include algebra I; plane geometry; plane and solid geometry; unified mathematics I and II; and pure mathematics.

Algebra II level
Highest completed course is algebra II or unified mathematics III.

Advanced academic level

The advanced academic level is divided into three sublevels, each of which is considered more academically challenging than the nonacademic, low academic, and middle academic levels, though the first level is not considered as challenging as the second level, nor the second level as challenging as the third.

Trigonometry/algebra III level
Highest completed courses is algebra III; algebra/trigonometry; algebra/analytical geometry; trigonometry; trigonometry/solid geometry; analytical geometry; linear algebra; probability; probability/statistics; statistics; statistics (other); or an independent study.

Precalculus level
Highest completed course is precalculus or an introduction to analysis.

Calculus level
Highest completed course is Advanced Placement (AP) calculus; calculus; or calculus/analytical geometry.

Science Pipeline

Unlike mathematics and other subjects, such as foreign languages, coursework in science does not follow a common or easily defined sequence. Depending on a school's curriculum, students can choose from several courses with minimal sequencing requirements. Consequently, the method used to construct the science pipeline differs from that used to construct the mathematics pipeline. First, all science courses were placed in one of four groups based on subject matter: (1) life science (e.g., biology, ecology, zoology); (2) chemistry; (3) physics; and (4) all other physical sciences (e.g., geology, earth science, physical science). Second, a pipeline was constructed for each of these four groups. Third, the pipelines for chemistry, physics, and all other physical sciences were combined into a single pipeline (a physical science pipeline). Finally, the physical science and life science pipelines were combined to create a single science pipeline. The final pipeline has seven levels; however, for indicator 12, two of these levels were combined into one category (low academic level).

No science

Includes graduates who did not complete any courses in science or who completed only basic or remedial-level science. It is possible for a graduate to have taken one or more courses in science but to be placed in the no-science level.

Low academic level

The low academic level is composed of two levels, each of which is considered to be more academically challenging than no science.

Primary physical science
Highest completed course is in basic physical sciences: applied physical science; earth science; college preparatory earth science; and unified science.

Secondary physical science and basic biology
Highest completed course is astronomy; geology; environmental science; oceanography; general physics; basic biology I; or consumer or introductory chemistry.

General Biology

Highest completed course is general biology I; secondary life sciences (including ecology, zoology, marine biology, and human physiology); or general or honors biology II.

Chemistry I or Physics I

Highest completed course is introductory chemistry, chemistry I, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, consumer chemistry, general physics, or physics I.

Chemistry I and Physics I

Highest completed courses include one level I chemistry course (see above) and one level I physics course (see above).

Chemistry II or Physics II or Advanced Biology

Highest completed course is advanced biology, International Baccalaureate (IB) biology II, IB biology III, AP biology, field biology, genetics, biopsychology, biology seminar, biochemistry and biophysics, biochemistry, botany, cell and molecular biology, cell biology, microbiology, anatomy, and miscellaneous specialized areas of life sciences, chemistry II, IB chemistry II, IB chemistry III, AP chemistry, physics II, IB physics, AP physics B, AP physics C: mechanics, AP physics C: electricity/magnetism, or physics II without calculus.

English Pipeline

English language and literature courses do not fit neatly into an ordered hierarchical framework. Instead of building on previously studied content, the English curriculum is stratified by the level of academic challenge and intensity of work required within a specific content area rather than among different courses. For example, within the general English curriculum, most schools have three tracks that vary by level of academic challenge: below-grade level or low academic-level courses, at-grade or regular courses, and above-grade or honors courses. Thus, unlike the mathematics and science pipelines that are based on progress within a content continuum (e.g., algebra I, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, and calculus), the English pipeline is constructed to reflect the proportion of coursework completed by graduates in each track. It reflects the quality of a graduate's English coursetaking rather than the progression from low-level to more challenging coursework. The English pipeline has seven categories; however, for indicator 12, two of these levels were combined into one category (low academic level).

No English

No courses classified as English ever completed by graduate. It is possible for a graduate to have taken one or more unclassified English courses and be placed in the no English level. For the most part, these unclassified courses were English coursework for blind and deaf students or English as a Second Language courses.

Low academic level

The low academic level is divided into two sublevels, the second of which is considered to be more academically challenging than the first.

50 percent or more low academic level English
The number of completed courses classified as low academic level, when divided by the total number of completed low academic, regular-, and honors-level courses, yields a percentage between 50 and 100.

Some, but less than 50 percent low academic level courses
The number of completed courses classified as low academic level, when divided by the total number of completed low academic, regular-, and honors-level courses, yields a percentage less than 50. It is possible for a graduate to have also completed less than 50 percent honors-level courses and be classified under this category if the percentage of low-academic level courses completed was equal to or greater than the percentage of honors-level courses completed.

Regular

All completed English courses classified at grade level; no low academic level or honors courses.

Advanced Academic level

The advanced academic level is divided into three sublevels.

Some, but less than 50 percent honors-level courses
The number of completed courses classified as honors level, when divided by the total number of completed low academic-, regular-, and honors-level courses, yields a percentage less than 50. It is possible for a graduate to have also completed less than 50 percent low-academic level courses and be classified under this category if the percentage of low-academic level courses completed was less than the percentage of honors-level courses completed.

50 percent or more, but less than 75 percent honors-level courses
The number of completed courses classified as honors level, when divided by the total number of completed low academic-, regular-, and honors-level courses, yields a percentage 50 or greater and less than 75.

75 percent or more honors-level courses
The number of completed courses classified as honors level, when divided by the total number of completed low academic-, regular-, and honors-level courses, yields a percentage between 75 and 100.

Foreign Language Pipeline

Coursework in a foreign language follows an ordered, sequential path. Most high school students who study a foreign language progress along such a path, which is typically a sequence of four year-long courses in the language. Not all students do this, however. Some students begin their studies in the middle of a sequence because they have prior knowledge of the language. Some repeat the same year of study. And a few (about 7 percent of 1988 graduates) study more than one language. The highest level of completed coursework in the foreign language pipeline thus may not indicate the total number of years a graduate has studied a foreign language or languages. The distribution of graduates among the various levels of foreign language courses was determined by the level of the most academically advanced course those graduates completed.

The foreign language pipeline originally did not classify all foreign language study: before 2004, only courses in French, German, Latin, and Spanish were counted because these were the most commonly offered foreign languages. The next four most commonly offered foreign languages (Italian, Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian) each accounted for less than 1 percent of 1988 graduates who studied foreign languages in the unweighted NELS:88 sample that was used to create the pipeline. Adding these four languages to the four most common languages in the pipeline originally made less than 0.1 percent difference in the percentage of graduates who studied a single language, though it made more difference (yet less than 1 percent difference) in the percentage of graduates who never studied a language and who studied more than one language.

Beginning with 2004 transcript data, the foreign language pipeline expanded its definition of foreign language coursetaking to include any classes in Amharic (Ethiopian), Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin), Czech, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek (Classical or Modern), Hawaiian, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Norse (Norwegian), Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian, or Yiddish. Compared with the pre-2004 definition, this expanded definition increased the percentage of students who had completed a foreign language course at year 3 or higher by 1 percent. It decreased the percentage of students classified as having completed no foreign language study by 1.8 percent.

Under both definitions, the foreign language pipeline has six categories. For indicator 12, however, two of these levels were combined into one category (year 2 or less).

None

No courses classified as foreign language study ever completed by graduate. Only courses included in the foreign language pipeline definition are counted as foreign language study (see above), so it is possible for a graduate to have taken one or more courses of some other foreign language and be placed in this category.

Year 1 (1 year of 9th-grade instruction) or less

Graduate completed no more than either a full Carnegie unit (1 academic year of coursework) of 9th-grade (year 1) foreign language instruction or half a Carnegie unit of 10th-grade (year 2) foreign language instruction.

Year 2 (1 year of 10th-grade instruction)

Graduate completed either a full Carnegie unit (1 academic year of coursework) of 10th-grade (year 2) foreign language instruction, or completed half a Carnegie unit of 11th-grade (year 3) foreign language instruction.

Year 3 (1 year of 11th-grade instruction)

Graduate completed either a full Carnegie unit (1 academic year of coursework) of 11th-grade (year 3) foreign language instruction, or completed half a Carnegie unit of 12th-grade (year 4) foreign language instruction.

Year 4 (1 year of 12th-grade instruction)

Graduate completed either a full Carnegie unit (1 academic year of coursework) of 12th-grade (year 1) foreign language instruction or completed half a Carnegie unit of 13th-grade (year 5) foreign language instruction.

AP instruction

Graduate completed an AP foreign language course.


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