- Compared to high school graduates 10 years earlier, students in the class of 2019 earned more credits, attained higher grade point averages, and took more STEM courses. Yet at the same time, their national average score decreased on the 12th-grade math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, data from the newly released NAEP High School Transcript Study showsi look.
- The percentage of 2019 graduates completing more rigorous courses rose across all racial groups measured, including Asian, Black, Hispanic and White. Rigorous and mid-level curricula were defined as requiring a world language class and math and science courses like geometry, precalculus and chemistry.
- Knowing about course completion trends and NAEP performance can help curriculum developers and other school system decision-makers plan for course offerings at the secondary school level, said Paul Gasparini, principal of Jamesville-DeWitt High School in New York, during a virtual event Wednesday to reveal the study findings.
The results are a "good news" story overall, said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, during Wednesday's event. But there are still unexplained trends and data points that need further investigation, Carr said.
For instance, even though a higher percentage of students are taking more rigorous math courses and average GPAs are rising, NAEP math scores in the basic and below basic range declined between 2009 and 2019.
When correlating those scores with the highest level of math courses completed, students who didn't complete higher-level math courses — such as geometry, algebra and precalculus — registered lower average NAEP math scores. The NAEP math scores of students taking more rigorous courses increased slightly over the 10-year period, showing a correlation between higher NAEP scores and higher-level courses, Carr said.
When digging into racial trends, students in all racial and ethnic groups who completed higher-level math courses showed declines in average NAEP math scores. All student racial groups in 2019, however, had higher percentages of completing rigorous coursework compared to 1990, the first year of the High School Transcript Study. The study is conducted every 10 years.
A deeper look into the statistics found White and Asian students in the class of 2019 to be overrepresented in rigorous courses in relation to overall student populations and to Black and Hispanic students. Higher percentages of students who attended suburban or city schools took rigorous courses compared to students in towns or rural areas.
Carr said it's important to put assessment and achievement levels into context, with the understanding that some academic expectations are purposefully challenging and aspirational. "So it is very possible that the highest, the solid mastery of academic knowledge, is the one at the top or the superior one," Carr said. "Students aren't reaching them because it's still a very aspirational goal. So it's something we need to watch."
She added: "I think that all the assessments have this pattern, where students' ability don't always match the aspirations in the assessment." Education stakeholders may want to ask if that is a bad thing, Carr said, "because we want space to grow."
In addition to taking a more rigorous course load and earning more course credits, the class of 2019 had a higher GPA than past graduation classes that were studied. The average GPA earned by 2019 high school graduates rose to 3.11 in 2019, up from 3.00 in 2009 and 2.68 in 1990.
GPAs among all races and ethnicities have increased since 1990. Asian/Pacific Islander graduates earned the highest average GPA (3.39), followed by White graduates (3.23), Hispanic graduates (2.95), and Black graduates (2.83).
The study included a nationally representative sample of 47,300 high school graduates in 2019 at 1,400 public and private schools.