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High Schoolers Take More Credits Than Ever

High school students are spending about 420 more hours in class than they did in 1990.

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Today's high school students are taking more classes than ever.

According to a new study by the National Center for Education Statistics, the average high school graduate in 2009 earned about three credits more than graduates in 1990. The extra credits amounted to about 420 more hours spent in the classroom than 1990 graduates.

Where did students find the time? About 1 in 5 took a summer class at some point during their high school careers; some students earned high school credits such as Algebra I, foreign language, and biology in middle school; and about 5 percent of graduates took a supplemental course online.

About 13 percent of graduates completed a "rigorous" curriculum, which includes at least three years of a foreign language; math coursework that includes pre-calculus; and at least three years of science, including at least one course in biology, chemistry, and physics. In 1990, just 5 percent of students completed such a rigorous curriculum, and in 2005, 10 percent did.

[Read about the growth of foreign languages in high schools.]

Not all graduates completed a tough curriculum, though—25 percent of graduates completed a curriculum considered below standard. In 1990, 60 percent of students completed a below-standard curriculum. The study defined a standard curriculum as four years of English and three each of social studies, math, and science. Many of these graduates failed to meet the science benchmark.

Not surprisingly, those who completed rigorous and midlevel coursework scored highest on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics and science standardized tests. Graduates with higher GPAs also scored higher on the tests. The NAEP tests are given to students to determine national education levels. Scores on the mathematics test were virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2009; the science test was not given in 2005.

[Learn about the surge in AP science and math enrollment.]

Female graduates had an average GPA of 3.10, while males earned an average of 2.90. That gap was the smallest since 1990, and overall, GPAs improved from 2.68 in 1990 to an average of 3.0 in 2009. That number was unchanged since 2005. Males outscored females on NAEP math and science tests.

White and Asian/Pacific Islander students earned higher GPAs than Hispanics and blacks, but GPAs generally improved across the board.

The National Center for Education Statistics, which is affiliated with the Department of Education, studied 37,700 high school transcripts from 740 public and private schools nationwide.

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