Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  High School Course-Taking
 
Credits Earned by Graduating High School Seniors

Studies associated with two National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data collection efforts (High School and Beyond and the National Assessment of Educational Progress) reveal that the two most prominent developments in secondary school course-taking over the last three decades were (1) an increase in the total number of courses taken by graduating seniors; and (2) a sharp drop in the percentage of high school courses taken in vocational fields.[1]

Findings and Trends

  • Among humanities subjects, high school course hours in languages other than English increased most, more than doubling, from an average of just over one Carnegie unit per student in 1982 to 2.3 units in 2009 (versus 3.9 units in mathematics and 3.5 in science in the latter year; Indicator I-6a).
  • Throughout the almost three decades (from 1982 to 2009), English was the most studied subject among American high school students (who, on average, took 4.4 Carnegie units of this type of course in 2009), followed by social studies (4.2 units).
  • Course-taking in social studies also increased from the early 1980s to 2009, driven in part by substantial growth in the proportion of high school students taking world history (Indicator I-6b). The share of students taking classes in this subject increased approximately 26 percentage points over the 1990s and 2000s, so that by 2009 86% of students graduating from high school had taken world history.
I-6a: Mean Number of High School Course Credits Earned in Broad Subject Areas, Graduation Years 1982–2009

* Statistically significantly different (p < .05) from 1982 value.
** Includes U.S. and world history, civics/government/politics, economics, world geography, psychology, and sociology credits.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, NAEP Data Explorer, http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/. Additional data obtained from U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Coursetaking: Findings from The Condition of Education 2007, NCES 2007-065 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2007), 8 fig. 3, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/2007065.pdf.

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I-6b: Percentage of High School Graduates Who Took Social Studies Courses in Secondary School, 1990–2009

* The world history and government values for 2009 are significantly different (p < .05) from those for 1990.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, NAEP Data Explorer, http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/naepdata/.

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Endnotes

[1] The mean total number of credits earned by high school graduates was 21.9 in 1982, 23.6 in 1990, 26.2 in 2000, 26.8 in 2005, and 27.2 in 2009 (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]; 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]; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, America’s High School Graduates: Results from the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study, NCES [Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2011]).