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Advanced mathematics and science courses

What are the recent patterns in advanced mathematics and science coursetaking among U.S. high school students?


In general, greater percentages of high school graduates1 had completed2 mathematics courses in 2019 than in 2009. Specifically, the percentage of graduates who had completed mathematics courses was higher in 2019 than in 2009 in the following seven courses: general/occupational/technical mathematics3 (29 vs. 26 percent); algebra I (85 vs. 78 percent); geometry (92 vs. 91 percent); algebra II, including courses that taught both algebra II and trigonometry (85 vs. 80 percent); precalculus/mathematical analysis (40 vs. 36 percent); other analytical mathematics4 (7 vs. 2 percent); and probability and statistics (17 vs. 13 percent). However, lower percentages of graduates had completed trigonometry when taken as a separate course (3 vs. 6 percent) and calculus (16 vs. 18 percent) in 2019 than in 2009.

Similar patterns over time can be observed for high school graduates’ completion of science courses. The percentage of graduates who had completed science courses was higher in 2019 than in 2009 in the following: earth/environmental science5 (47 vs. 40 percent); chemistry (76 vs. 73 percent); and physics (40 vs. 34 percent). In both 2009 and 2019, about 97 percent of graduates had completed a biology course. More specifically, a higher percentage had completed both biology and chemistry courses in 2019 than in 2009 (75 vs. 72 percent), and a higher percentage had completed courses in all three subjects of biology, chemistry, and physics in 2019 than in 2009 (35 vs. 30 percent; hereafter referred to as “completed biology, chemistry, and physics”). In contrast, a lower percentage of graduates had completed integrated/unified/survey science6 in 2019 than in 2009 (46 vs. 55 percent).

In 2019, high school graduates who had completed higher levels of mathematics courses also had higher average scale scores on the NAEP 12th-grade mathematics assessment. For example, graduates who had completed only algebra I or below had an average scale score of 112 (on a scale of 0–300), compared with a score of 136 among those whose highest mathematics course completed was algebra II and a score of 192 among those whose highest mathematics course completed was calculus. These patterns held across all racial/ethnic groups with available data. In addition, there were gaps in achievement on the NAEP 12th-grade assessments across demographic subgroups. These gaps differed when considering only graduates who completed the same level of mathematics coursework. For example, for graduates who had completed calculus, the average scale score was higher for males than for females (196 vs. 187). This gender gap for graduates who had completed calculus (9 points) was larger than the average gap for all 12th-grade students (3 points).7 In contrast, racial/ethnic gaps in NAEP scores were smaller for graduates who had completed calculus than for all 12th-grade students. Average scale scores for those who had completed calculus were higher for Asian graduates (201), graduates of Two or more races (198), and White graduates (194) than for Hispanic and Black graduates (179 and 177, respectively). The range of scores across these groups was about 25 points, compared with 46 points when considering all 12th-grade students.

1 For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses of this Fast Fact, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had three or more years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and HSTS assessment year, (4) the graduate’s transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the graduate’s transcript contained at least 1 Carnegie credit in English courses.
2 Completion of a course means that the graduate earned credits in a course within the category. It differs from graduates who took a course but did not pass or complete it.
3 Includes courses that are generally taken before or with algebra I. Occupational and technical mathematics courses may cover basic elements of algebra and geometry.
4 Includes courses such as discrete and finite mathematics.
5 Includes astronomy, geology, and marine science courses.
6 Includes general life science and physical science courses.
7 Data on the achievement gap for all 12th-grade students include all 12th-grade students who participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The High School Transcript Study (HSTS) was conducted in conjunction with NAEP, but only a subset of NAEP participants were included in the HSTS. For instance, only 12th-grade students who graduated in the year of the study were included in the HSTS. Thus, data on the achievement gap for graduates who had completed a certain level of mathematics coursework only include those who participated in both NAEP and HSTS. Readers are encouraged to keep these differences between the NAEP and HSTS samples in mind when interpreting the current paragraph.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). High School Mathematics and Science Course Completion. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

Numbers in figure titles reflect original numeration from source Condition of Education indicators.

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