America's High School Graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study


NAEP HSTS 2009 cover imageHigh
school students are taking more courses now than they were two decades
ago, and more are opting for rigorous curricula, according to the 2009
NAEP High School Transcript Study (HSTS). According to the nationally
representative study, 2009 graduates earned three more course credits
than their 1990 peers, translating into 420 more hours of instruction.
Even better, students are earning more credits in the core courses
(English, math, science, and history). Unfortunately, the HSTS can’t
explain how these shifts occurred, while noting that neither the school
day nor the school year has been altered. (The authors do offer
potential explanations, including an increase in voluntary summer
school, supplemental online courses, etc. But the data doesn’t allow for
concrete explanations.) There’s more good news: Students in 2009 are,
on average, taking a more rigorous course of study than their 1990
counterparts. The shift has been particularly prominent for African
Americans. In 1990, 60 percent of all black graduates took a “below
basic” curriculum, and only 26 percent took a “midlevel” or “rigorous”
one. In 2009, only 21 percent took a below basic curriculum, and 57
percent engaged in a midlevel or rigorous one. This shift seems
promising for NAEP scores: The HSTS reports that students who take
rigorous curricula score proficient in NAEP math and science. Whether
the strong NAEP performance is due to the rigorous curricula or not
requires further analysis. Even though the HSTS leaves many questions
unanswered, the report brings to the fore some heady policy issues and
offers, for those willing to sift through the silt, a few golden policy

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Christine Nord, Shep Roey, Robert Perkins, Marsha Lyons, Nita
Lemanski, Yael Tamir, Janis Brown, Jason Schuknecht, and Kathleen
Herrold, “America's High School Graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study,” (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, April 2011).