Skip Navigation

Equitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction DomainEquitable Access to High-Quality Curricula and Instruction Domain

Disparities in Curricular Breadth

Last Updated: May 2024 | Suggested Citation

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report Monitoring Educational Equity emphasizes that a broad curriculum covering more than reading and math is important for students’ academic performance and their well-being in adulthood. The report identifies the availability of and students’ enrollment in a comprehensive range of subjects as potential measures of curricular breadth in U.S. schools. This indicator explores curricular breadth using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study (HSTS) on the number of credits earned by students in various subjects. Specifically, this indicator uses Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school students in a combination of courses (i.e., English, social studies, science, math, and world language); in social studies and history, visual and performing arts, and world language and literature; and in any STEM-related technical course.30 Although credits earned is an imperfect proxy for availability and enrollment, it provides useful information about the differences in the breadth of curriculum students complete. Generally, a course meeting every day for one period of the school day over the span of a school year offers one Carnegie credit. This indicator focuses on student groups that have HSTS data available through the NAEP Data Explorer tool. Group differences for all measures in this indicator are examined by students’ sex and race/ethnicity. Differences by English Learner (EL) status and school locale are examined for courses in social studies and history, visual and performing arts, world language and literature, as well as STEM-related technical courses.

Availability of and Enrollment in Coursework in the Arts, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Technology

The findings in this indicator are for both public and private high school graduates. For simplicity, “public and private” is denoted only in the highlighted findings and in the first bulleted data item of each section. One measure of curricular breadth discussed in the findings below is earning a minimum number of credits in a selected combination of academic courses covering a broader range of subject areas than reading and math. Specifically, differences by equity dimension are explored for graduates who earned 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits.31 This specific combination of courses, identified in this indicator as a “broad academic curriculum,” is discussed because the National Commission on Excellence in Education recommended in 1983 that all college-bound high school students take these courses plus 0.5 credits of computer science as a minimum.32

|

In 2019, the percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in a broad academic curriculum was higher for female than male graduates. Female high school graduates also earned more Carnegie credits, on average, than did male high school graduates in social sciences and history, visual and performing arts, and world language and literature. However, a lower percentage of female than male high school graduates earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course.

  • In 2019, a higher percentage of female than male public and private high school graduates earned credits in a broad academic curriculum. Specifically, 70 percent of female graduates earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits, compared with 61 percent of male graduates. 

Figure 1. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits, by sex: 2019 

Figure 1. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits, by sex: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for sex.

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education recommended that all college-bound high school students take these courses plus 0.5 credits of computer science as a minimum. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 225.50.

  • In 2019, female high school graduates earned more Carnegie credits, on average, than did male high school graduates in
    • social sciences and history (4.1 vs. 4.0 credits);
    • visual and performing arts (2.6 vs. 1.9 credits); and
    • world language and literature (2.3 vs. 2.0 credits).33

Figure 2. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and sex: 2019

Figure 2. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and sex: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for sex.

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

  • In contrast, in 2019, a lower percentage of female than male high school graduates earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course (37 vs. 41 percent).34

Figure 3. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by sex: 2019

Figure 3. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by sex: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for sex.

NOTE: STEM-related technical courses include courses in engineering/science technologies, health science and technology, and computer science. For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

In 2019, the percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in a broad academic curriculum was highest for those who were Asian. Additionally, high school graduates who were Asian earned more Carnegie credits in social sciences and history and world language and literature than did those who were of other races/ethnicities. Similarly, the percentage of high school graduates who earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course was higher for those who were Asian than for those who were of other racial/ethnic groups.

  • In 2019, the percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits was highest for those who were Asian (73 percent) and lowest for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native (42 percent) compared with those of other racial/ethnic groups.

Figure 4. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits, by race/ethnicity: 2019

Figure 4. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned a minimum of 4 English credits, 3 social studies credits, 3 science credits, 3 math credits, and 2 world language credits, by race/ethnicity: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for race/ethnicity.    

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education recommended that all college-bound high school students take these courses plus 0.5 credits of computer science as a minimum. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria. Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, and Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 225.50.

  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in social sciences and history earned by high school graduates was highest for those who were Asian (4.3 credits). The average number of credits was lower for those who were Hispanic (3.9 credits) or Pacific Islander (3.8 credits) than for graduates of other racial/ethnic groups except for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native.
  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in visual and performing arts earned by high school graduates who were of Two or more races (2.4 credits) or White (2.3 credits) was higher than the average number earned by those who were Hispanic (2.2 credits) or Black (2.1 credits).
  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in world language and literature earned by high school graduates was highest for those who were Asian (2.6 credits) and lowest for those who were American Indian/Alaska Native (1.5 credits). Additionally, high school graduates who were of Two or more races, Hispanic, or White (2.2 credits each) earned more Carnegie credits, on average, in world language and literature than did those who were Pacific Islander or Black (1.9 credits each).

Figure 5. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and race/ethnicity: 2019

Figure 5. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and race/ethnicity: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for race/ethnicity.

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria. Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, and Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

  • In 2019, the percentage of high school graduates who earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course was higher for those who were Asian (51 percent) than for those who were of other racial/ethnic groups.

Figure 6. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by race/ethnicity: 2019

Figure 6. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by race/ethnicity: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for race/ethnicity.

NOTE: STEM-related technical courses include courses in engineering/science technologies, health science and technology, and computer science. For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria. Black includes African American, Hispanic includes Latino, and Pacific Islander includes Native Hawaiian. Race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

In 2019, public and private high school graduates who were ELs earned fewer Carnegie credits, on average, in social sciences and history, visual and performing arts, and world language and literature than did those who were not ELs. Similarly, the percentage of high school graduates who earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course was lower for those who were ELs than for those who were not ELs.

  • In 2019, public and private high school graduates who were ELs earned fewer Carnegie credits, on average, than did those who were not ELs in
    • social sciences and history (3.8 vs. 4.0 credits);
    • visual and performing arts (1.9 vs. 2.3 credits); and
    • world language and literature (1.8 vs. 2.2 credits).

Figure 7. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and English learner status: 2019

Figure 7. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and English learner status: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for English learner status.

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. For the definition of English learner, please see the COE glossary. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

  • In 2019, the percentage of high school graduates who earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course was lower for those who were ELs (35 percent) than for those who were not ELs (39 percent).

Figure 8. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by English learner status: 2019

Figure 8. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by English learner status: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for English learner status.

NOTE: STEM-related technical courses include courses in engineering/science technologies, health science and technology, and computer science. For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. For the definition of English learner, please see the COE glossary. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

In 2019, public and private high school graduates from schools in towns earned fewer Carnegie credits in social sciences and history and world language and literature than did those from schools in cities and suburban areas.

  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in social sciences and history earned by high school graduates from public and private schools was lower in towns (3.8 credits) than in other locales. Also, those from high schools in suburban areas (4.0 credits) earned fewer Carnegie credits in social sciences and history than did those from schools in cities (4.1 credits).
  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in visual and performing arts earned by high school graduates from schools in suburban areas (2.2 credits) was lower than the average number earned by those from schools in cities (2.4 credits).
  • In 2019, the average number of Carnegie credits in world language and literature earned by high school graduates from schools in rural areas and towns (1.8 credits each) was lower than the average number earned by those from schools in cities (2.3 credits) and suburban areas (2.3 credits).

Figure 9. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and school locale: 2019

Figure 9. Average number of Carnegie credits earned by public and private high school graduates, by selected subject area and school locale: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for school locale.

NOTE: For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

  • There were no measurable differences by school locale in the percentage of 2019 high school graduates who earned Carnegie credits in any STEM-related technical course.

Figure 10. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by school locale: 2019

Figure 10. Percentage of public and private high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical courses, by school locale: 2019

1 Includes all graduates, even if they had missing data for school locale.

NOTE: STEM-related technical courses include courses in engineering/science technologies, health science and technology, and computer science. For a high school graduate to be included in the analyses, their transcript had to meet five requirements: (1) the graduate received either a standard or honors diploma, (2) the transcript had 4 years of delineated courses, (3) at least one course on the transcript was taken during the NAEP and High School Transcript Study (HSTS) assessment year, (4) the transcript contained 16 or more Carnegie credits, and (5) the transcript contained at least one Carnegie credit in English courses. The Carnegie unit is a standard of measurement that represents one credit for the completion of a 1-year course. Data differ slightly from figures appearing in other NCES reports because of differences in taxonomies and case exclusion criteria.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 High School Transcript Study (HSTS), retrieved October 12, 2023, from the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

30 STEM-related technical courses include courses in engineering/science technologies, health science and technology, and computer science.

31 Graduates had to earn at least the number of credits listed for all subjects listed.

32 The 0.5 credits of computer science is not discussed in this indicator.

33 In this indicator, only differences in Carnegie credits for selected subject fields are discussed. However, data on other subject fields such as English language and literature, career/technical education, mathematics, and science can be found in the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

34 In this indicator, only differences in the percentage of high school graduates who earned credits in any STEM-related technical course are discussed. However, data on other subject fields can be found in the Digest of Education Statistics 2021, table 225.46 or in the NAEP Data Explorer (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/ndecore/xplore/hsts).

Suggested Citation

National Center for Education Statistics. (2024). Curricular Breadth. Equity in Education Dashboard. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/equity/indicator_f12.asp.