2007 Spotlight

High School Coursetaking


Using the national data from high school transcript studies conducted from 1982 to 2005, this special analysis addresses the following questions related to students’ coursetaking patterns and trends during this period:

  • What do states require and what do schools offer for coursework?

  • How many course credits do students earn by high school graduation, on average, and how has the number of credits changed, overall and by subject, since the 1980s?

  • What percentage of high school graduates complete advanced courses in science, in mathematics, in English, and in foreign languages?

  • Do these percentages vary across student characteristics, including sex, race/ethnicity, and school control?

  • What is the coursetaking pattern in 9th and 10th grades for students who drop out compared with students who graduate?

  • What percentage of high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) examinations, and how well do they do?

The first section of this special analysis describes state-level standards related to coursework and high school exit examinations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which is treated as a state in this analysis. This is followed by a discussion of the availability of advanced course offerings in public schools.1 Both requirements and offerings provide a context for examining the patterns of student coursetaking as they relate to minimum standards and expectations. The second section describes the number and types of credits that public and private high school graduates earned. It then examines the percentages and characteristics of public and private high school graduates who took advanced courses in science, mathematics, English, and foreign languages. The special analysis concludes with a summary of key findings.

1The most recent data available for this special analysis did not collect data on advanced course offerings from private schools. (back to text)