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A PROJECT OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES

     
       
Indicator I-6 Credits Earned by Graduating High School Seniors
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Updated (8/5/2010).

This indicator focuses on trends in course-taking in public and private high schools between 1982 and 2005. To ensure that totals are consistent over that time, enrollments are reported in Carnegie units (one of which is equal to 120 hours of classroom instruction). The data presented here were collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as part of the high school transcript studies it periodically conducts.

Studies associated with two separate NCES data collection efforts (High School and Beyond and The National Assessment of Educational Progress) reveal that the two most prominent trends in secondary-school course-taking over the period were: (1) an increase in the total number of courses taken by graduating seniors;1 and (2) a sharp drop in the percentage of high school courses taken in vocational fields. Consonant with these developments, course-taking in humanities subjects increased (Figure I-6a). Course hours in languages other than English (LOTE) increased most, rising from an average of just over one Carnegie unit per student in 1982 to 2.1 units in 2005. Throughout the two decades, English was the most studied subject among American high school students. But with English, like LOTE, all of the growth in course-taking occurred over the course of the 1980s and 1990s. This is in contrast to math and the sciences, which saw increases over the first half of the 2000s as well.

Figure 1-6a, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

While growth in English and LOTE course-taking ceased between 2000 and 2005, the average number of social studies units grew from 3.9 to 4.1. Social studies, as defined by NCES, includes history, as well as several subjects that are not treated as part of the humanities for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators (for an explanation of the way in which the “humanities” is conceptualized by the Humanities Indicators, please see the scope statement). The data presented in Figure I-6b suggest that this upward trend in social studies course-taking has been driven, at least in part, by a greater proportion of students taking world history. The share of students taking classes in this subject increased approximately 16 percentage points over the 1990s and early 2000s, so that by 2005 more than 75% of students graduating from high school had taken world history.

Figure 1-6b, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data


Notes


1 The total number of credits earned by high school graduates was 21.9 in 1982, 23.6 in 1990, 26.2 in 2000, and 26.8 in 2005 (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, The 1998 High School Transcript Study Tabulations: Comparative Data on Credits Earned and Demographics for 1998, 1994, 1990, 1987, and 1982 High School Graduates, NCES 2001-498 [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2001]; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, America’s High School Graduates: Results from the 2005 NAEP High School Transcript Study, NCES 2007-467 [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2007]).

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