More students are taking rigorous classes and — surprise! — scoring higher on achievement tests, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress High School Transcript Study.
Thirteen percent of students complete rigorous courses, including high-level math and science, up from only 5 percent in 1990. Another 46 percent take a “midlevel” curriculum, increased from 26 percent. Ed Week reports:
The report classifies student coursetaking by three curriculum levels: “standard” (at least four credits of English and three credits each in social studies, math, and science); midlevel (standard requirements plus geometry and Algebra 1 or 2; at least two courses from biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least one credit of a foreign language); and rigorous (all the midlevel requirements plus an additional credit in precalculus or higher math; courses in biology, chemistry, and physics; and at least three credits in a foreign language).
“Rigorous” graduates typically score proficient on NAEP exams, while midlevel and standard graduates score at the basic level.
. . . The proportion of black graduates attaining a rigorous-curriculum level increased from 2 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2009. For Hispanic students, the number rose from 2 percent to 8 percent in the same stretch, and for Asian/Pacific Islanders, it went from 13 percent to 29 percent. Whites, meanwhile, increased from 5 percent to 14 percent.
Blacks and Latinos who take more rigorous courses don’t perform as well on achievement tests as whites and Asians, said Cornelia Orr, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP.
“It makes me want to question: Are the courses the same?” she said. “Perhaps the pace of instruction is different. There are any number of variables.”
In addition, boys outscore girls in math and science.
Missing science classes were responsible for keeping many students, especially girls, below the rigorous level. (As a 1970 graduate, I wouild have been midlevel with no physics and no math past advanced algebra/trig.)
Two-thirds of “rigorous” graduates took algebra in eighth grade.
In light of the discussion here, I was surprised to learn that 76 percent of high school graduates take Algebra II. That seems high, though the sample excludes those who don’t earn a diploma. In 1990, 53 percent of graduates had taken Algebra II.