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NAEP Results: More Students Choosing Challenging Courses

Findings from a recent National Center for Education Statistics report suggest a strong relationship between the rigor of a high school student’s coursework and the student’s academic achievement.

The report, America’s High School Graduates: Results from the NAEP High School Transcript Study, analyzed student transcripts for coursework taken, credits earned, and grade point average (GPA). Specifically, the connection between courses taken and student achievement was considered.

Based on a representative sample of 37,700 public and private high school graduates, the analysis of the 12th grade NAEP assessment reveals that students taking more challenging coursework earn higher math and science scores. On average, 2009 graduates earned more credits, including those in career technical education (CTE) courses, than any previous graduating class. Additionally, the overall GPA for students taking classes in areas like CTE increased from 3.03 to 3.39.

Students taking Algebra I before entering high school scored 31 points higher on the math portion of the NAEP than those who did not take Algebra I until high school. Additionally, the study indicates that students taking basic or mid-level curriculum can greatly increase the rigor of their studies simply by adding more challenging science classes. Girls were found to take less science coursework than boys.

The report describes that students taking the most challenging or “rigorous” level coursework earned proficient-level scores on the NAEP test. On average, students taking “mid-level” curriculum or “standard” curriculum (the lowest level of coursework) received basic-level scores on the NAEP exam, indicating only partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for success in 12th grade math and science.

The report states that, on average, high school students are taking increasingly challenging coursework, and the increased rigor leads to higher student achievement. We can continue this trend by increasing the rigor of CTE programs of study and by ensuring that CTE students are taking rigorous math and science courses.

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