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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

High School Academic Coursetaking

Since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, school reforms have emphasized increasing the number of academic courses students take in high school. More recent reforms have emphasized increasing the rigor of courses taken. Research suggests a positive relationship between the level of difficulty of courses students take and their performance on assessments.113, 114 Research also suggests that student enrollment in rigorous mathematics and science courses increases interest in majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields,115 and young adults who major in STEM fields tend to have more positive economic outcomes, such as higher median earnings, than those with degrees in non-STEM fields.116

Indicator ED3: Percentage of public high school students enrolled in selected secondary mathematics and science courses, school year 2013–14
Indicator ED3: Percentage of public high school students enrolled in selected secondary mathematics and science courses, school year 2013–14

NOTE: Data reflect the percentage of students in Grades 9–12 who were enrolled in each course during the 2013–14 school year. Advanced mathematics courses cover the following topics: trigonometry, trigonometry/algebra, trigonometry/analytic geometry, trigonometry/math analysis, analytic geometry, math analysis, math analysis/analytic geometry, probability and statistics, and pre-calculus. Data have been revised since previous publication in America's Children.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Civil Rights Data Collection and U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data.

  • During the 2013–14 school year, about 24 percent of public high school students in Grades 9–12 were enrolled in geometry classes, 19 percent were enrolled in algebra II, 17 percent were enrolled in advanced mathematics, 4 percent were enrolled in calculus, and 4 percent were enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) math. In terms of science classes, about 29 percent of public high school students were enrolled in biology, 19 percent were enrolled in chemistry, 10 percent were enrolled in physics, and 4 percent were enrolled in AP science.
  • During the 2013–14 school year, a higher percentage of females than males in Grades 9–12 in public schools were enrolled in geometry, algebra II, advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry, and AP science. There was no statistically significant difference in the percentage of males and females enrolled in calculus and AP math. A higher percentage of males than females were enrolled in physics.
  • A higher percentage of Asian, non-Hispanic students (13 percent) than of students of any other racial or ethnic group were enrolled in AP math during the 2013–14 school year. The percentage of students enrolled in AP math was lowest for Black, non- Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students (both 2 percent). Similarly, the percentage of students enrolled in AP science was highest for Asian, non-Hispanics (14 percent) and lowest for Black, non-Hispanics and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanics (both 2 percent).
  • For both males and females, a greater percentage of Asian, non-Hispanic students than students of other races and ethnicities enrolled in AP math and AP science.

table icon ED3A HTML Table | ED3B HTML Table

113 Dalton, B., Ingels, S. J., Downing, J., & Bozick, R. (2007). Advanced mathematics and science coursetaking in the spring high school senior classes of 1982, 1992, and 2004. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

114 Leow, C., Marcus, S., Zanutto, E., & Boruch, R. (2004). Effects of advanced course-taking on math and science achievement: Addressing selection bias using propensity scores. American Journal of Evaluation, 25, 461–478.

115 Wang, X. (2013). Why students choose STEM majors: Motivation, high school learning, and postsecondary context of support. American Educational Research Journal, 50(5), 1081–1121.

116 Ross, T., Kena, G., Rathbun, A., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, J., Kristapovich, P., & Manning, E. (2012). Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study (NCES 2012-046). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC.