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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2021

High School Academic Coursetaking

Since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983,103 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 that student enrollment in rigorous mathematics and science courses is associated with increased interest in majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.104 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.105

Indicator ED3: Percentage of public school students enrolled in selected secondary mathematics and science courses, 2017–18
Indicator ED3: Percentage of public school students enrolled in selected secondary mathematics and science courses, 2017–18

NOTE: Data reflect the percentage of students in Grades 9–12 and grade equivalents who were enrolled in each course during the 2017–18 school year. Advanced mathematics courses cover the following topics: trigonometry, trigonometry/algebra, trigonometry/analytic geometry, trigonometry/mathematical analysis, analytic geometry, mathematical analysis, mathematical analysis/analytic geometry, probability and statistics, and precalculus.

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, Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey.

  • During the 2017–18 school year, about 23% of public high school students in Grades 9–12106 were enrolled in geometry classes, 20% were enrolled in algebra II, 16% were enrolled in advanced mathematics, 5% were enrolled in calculus, and 5% were enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) mathematics. In terms of science classes, about 30% of public high school students were enrolled in biology, 20% were enrolled in chemistry, 11% were enrolled in physics, and 6% were enrolled in AP science.
  • During the 2017–18 school year, a higher percentage of females than males in Grades 9–12 in public schools were enrolled in algebra II, advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry, and AP science. A higher percentage of males than females were enrolled in physics.
  • Higher percentages of Asian, non-Hispanic students than of students of any other racial/ethnic group were enrolled in calculus and AP mathematics during the 2017–18 school year (13% and 14%, respectively). The percentages of students enrolled in calculus and AP mathematics were lowest for Black, non-Hispanic and American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students (2% for both groups and subjects). Similarly, the percentage of students enrolled in AP science was highest for Asian, non-Hispanic students (17%) and lowest for American Indian or Alaska Native, non-Hispanic students (2%).
  • For both males and females, a greater percentage of Asian, non-Hispanic students than students of other races/ethnicities enrolled in AP mathematics and AP science.

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103 National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. U.S. Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/index.html

104 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.

105 Cominole, M., Thomsen, E., Henderson, M., Dunlop Velez, E., & Cooney, J. (2021). Baccalaureate and beyond (B&B:08/18): First look at the 2018 employment and educational experiences of 2007–08 college graduates (NCES 2021-241). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2021/2021241.pdf

106 The analysis also includes ungraded students in a grade equivalent to Grades 9–12.