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High School Transcript Studies (HSTS)


  • National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Studies
  • High School and Beyond Longitudinal Study High School Transcript Study
  • National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 High School Transcript Study
  • Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 High School Transcript Study

The value of school transcripts as objective, reliable measures of crucial aspects of students’ educational experiences is widely recognized. NCES high school transcript studies collect information contained in the student high school record—i.e., courses taken while attending secondary school; information on credits earned; year and term a specific course was taken; and final grades. When available, information on class rank and standardized scores is also collected. Once collected, this information is transcribed and standardized (e.g., credits and credit hours converted to a common metric) and can be linked back to the student questionnaires or assessment data.

Transcripts include information that is considered to be the official and fixed record regarding student course-taking behaviors. This information is considered to be more accurate than self-reported student information and represents a record of courses taken by the student. This information can be used to examine course-taking patterns of students and to predict future education outcomes.

Since 1982, NCES has conducted 10 high school transcript studies: seven associated with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and three conducted as part of the Longitudinal Studies Program. Thus, this chapter is divided into two sections—the first, on the NAEP HSTS; the second, on the transcript studies conducted as part of the Longitudinal Studies Program.

Some key terms related to the high school transcript studies are defined below.

Advanced Placement (AP). The AP Program is designed to prepare students to take the Advanced Placement examinations given by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Students who pass these tests may be given credit and/or be exempted from requirements in colleges and universities based on their scores. Colleges and universities make their own rules regarding what tests to accept and the scores needed for credit or exemptions.

Carnegie Unit. A factor used to standardize credits indicated on transcripts across the studies. The Carnegie unit is a strictly time-based reference for measuring secondary school attainment used by American universities and colleges. A single Carnegie unit is equal to 120 hours of classroom time over the course of a year at the secondary American high school level. Strictly speaking, this breaks down into a single 1-hour meeting on each of five days per week for a total of 24 weeks per year. However, knowing that classes usually meet for 50 minutes yields a value of 30 weeks per year. A semester (one half of a full year) earns 1/2 Carnegie unit.

Catalog. A document compiled by a school or a district listing all available courses that are offered by the school and a description of those courses. Curriculum specialists review catalogs and use them to determine the appropriate Classification of Secondary School Courses (CSSC) code for each course.

Classification of Secondary School Courses (CSSC). A coding system employed for the purpose of standardizing high school transcripts. The CSSC is a modification of the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code used for classifying college courses and contains approximately 2,300 course codes. Each CSSC code contains six digits. The first two digits identify the main program area, the second two digits represent a subcategory of courses within the main program area, and the final two digits define the specific course. For example, for the CSSC code 400522, the first two digits (40) define the Physical Sciences program area, the middle two digits (05) define the Chemistry subcategory, and the final two digits (22) define the course Advanced Chemistry.

Course Offerings File. A high school transcript study data file that provides a comprehensive list of the courses offered in the schools included in the study. A CSSC code is associated with each course title.

Grade Point Average (GPA). The GPA is the average of the points earned for all courses taken and does not include courses where the graduate did not receive a grade (audited or pass/fail courses). Each letter grade is assigned a set number of points (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, F = 0), which are adjusted based on the number of Carnegie units earned in each course. GPAs are not standardized for differences in grading practices across schools and teachers, nor are they adjusted for International Baccalaureate (IB), AP, or honors courses.

International Baccalaureate (IB). A nonprofit educational foundation program consisting of a comprehensive 2-year international curriculum that allows students to fulfill the requirements of their national or state education systems. Secondary School Taxonomy (SST). The framework initially used by the high school transcript studies for analyzing transcript data. The taxonomy divides high school coursework into three distinct curricula: academic, vocational, and personal/other.

Secondary School Taxonomy (SST). The framework initially used by the high school transcript studies for analyzing transcript data. The taxonomy divides high school coursework into three distinct curricula: academic, vocational, and personal/other.

Taxonomy. The classification of items into larger categories. In the high school transcript studies, the items are specific secondary school courses (e.g., composition, first-year algebra, AP biology, American government) that are classified into course subject categories, as organized according to the SST, which is based on course content and level.

Tests and Honors File. A data file providing a list of honors and standardized test results, including SAT and ACT scores, that are found in the transcripts.

Transcript. A student’s secondary school record containing courses taken, grades, graduation status, and attendance. In addition, it often includes scores from assessments, such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and a list of honors.

Transcript File. A data file providing a complete list of all courses appearing in the transcripts of students sampled in the study.