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Indicator I-6 Credits Earned by Graduating High School Seniors
NOTE TO READERS: Please include the following reference when citing data from this page: "American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Humanities Indicators, http://HumanitiesIndicators.org".
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Updated (9/14/2012) with data for 2009.

This indicator focuses on trends in course-taking in public and private high schools. To ensure that totals are consistent over time, enrollments are reported in Carnegie units (one of which is equal to 120 hours of classroom instruction). The data presented here were collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as part of the high school transcript studies it periodically conducts.

Studies associated with two separate NCES data collection efforts (High School and Beyond and The National Assessment of Educational Progress) reveal that the two most prominent trends in secondary-school course-taking over the last three decades were: (1) an increase in the total number of courses taken by graduating seniors;1 and (2) a sharp drop in the percentage of high school courses taken in vocational fields. Consonant with these developments, course-taking in humanities subjects increased (Figure I-6a). Among humanities subjects, 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). Throughout the almost three decades, 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).

Figure I-6a, Full Size
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Social studies, as defined by NCES, includes history, as well as several subjects that are not treated as part of the humanities for the purposes of the Humanities Indicators (for an explanation of the way in which the “humanities” is conceptualized by the Humanities Indicators, please see the scope statement). The data presented in Figure I-6b suggest that the increase in social studies course-taking has been driven, at least in part, by substantial growth in the proportion of high school students taking world history. 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.

Figure I-6b, Full Size
Supporting Data Supporting Data

(Other history-related items in the Humanities Indicators include Indicator I-3, Knowledge of U.S. History, Indicator I-9, Qualifications of Humanities Teachers, and Indicator V-13, Historic Site Visits.)



Notes


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]; and 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]).

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