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National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS 88)


The NELS:88 project was designed to provide trend data about critical transitions experienced by students as they leave elementary school and progress through high school and into postsecondary education or the workforce. Its longitudinal design permits the examination of changes in young people’s lives and the role of school in promoting growth and positive life outcomes. The project collects policy-relevant data about educational processes and outcomes, early and late predictors of dropping out, and school effects on students’ access to programs and equal opportunity to learn. These data complement and strengthen state and local efforts by furnishing new information on how school policies, teacher practices, and family involvement affect student educational outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, persistence in school, and participation in postsecondary education).

NELS:88 data can be used in three ways: in cross-sectional, longitudinal, and cross-cohort analyses (by comparing NELS:88 findings with those of NLS:72, HS&B, and ELS:2002). By following young adolescents at an earlier age (beginning in 8th grade) and into the 21st century, NELS:88 expands the base of knowledge established in the NLS:72 and HS&B studies. NELS:88 first follow-up data provide a comparison point to high school sophomores 10 years earlier, as studied in HS&B. NELS:88 second follow-up data allow trend comparisons of the high school class of 1992 with the 1972 and 1980 seniors studied in NLS:72 and HS&B, respectively. The NELS:88 third follow-up allows comparisons with NLS:72 and HS&B related to postsecondary outcomes. ELS:2002 is different from NELS:88 in that the base-year sample students are 10th-graders rather than 8th-graders. With a freshened senior sample, the ELS:2002 first follow-up supports comparisons with the NELS:88 second follow-up. The ELS:2002 first follow-up academic transcript component also offers a further opportunity for a cross-cohort comparison with the high school transcript studies of NELS:88. Together, the four studies provide measures of educational attainment in the United States and rich resources for studying the reasons for and consequences of academic success and failure.

More specifically, NELS:88 data can be used to investigate 

  • transitions from elementary to secondary school: how students are assigned to curricular programs and courses; how such assignments affect their academic performance as well as future career and postsecondary education choices;

  • academic growth over time: family, community, school, and classroom factors that promote growth; school classroom characteristics and practices that promote learning; effects of changing family composition on academic growth; 

  • features of effective schools: school attributes associated with student academic achievement; school effects analyses;

  • the dropout process: contextual factors associated with dropping out; movement in and out of school, including alternative high school programs;

  • the role of the school in helping the disadvantaged: school experiences of the disadvantaged; approaches that hold the greatest potential for helping them;

  • school experiences and academic performance of language-minority students: variation in achievement levels; bilingual education needs and experiences;

  • students’ mathematics and science learning: math and science preparation received by students; student interest in these subjects; encouragement by teachers and school to study advanced mathematics and science; and 

  • transitions from high school to college and postsecondary access/choice: planning and application behaviors of the high school class of 1992; subsequent enrollment in postsecondary institutions.