Effects of High School Course-Taking on Secondary and Postsecondary Success
Issue/Topic: High School
Author(s): Conger, Dylan; Iatarola, Patrice; Long, Mark
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published On: 4/12/2012
There have been recent wide-scale efforts to increase the rigor of courses in high schools based on research that demonstrates positive relationships between rigorous course-taking and later educational and labor market outcomes. However, the existing literature offers limited investigation into the relative performance returns to rigorous courses in different subjects and the variation in course-taking effects across subgroups of students, and high schools with different characteristics.
To examine the association between students' high school course-taking in various subjects and their 10th-grade test scores, high school graduation, entry into postsecondary, and postsecondary performance.
- There are substantial significant differences in outcomes for those who take rigorous courses, and these effects are often larger for disadvantaged youth and students attending disadvantaged schools.
- Students who take at least one rigorous course are significantly more likely to graduate high school and go to a 4-year college. Also noted is a statistically significant increase in college credits earned, a college grade point average, and the likelihood of earning a bachelor's degree.
- In math, students who take a rigorous course early in high school produce a statistically significant increase on 10th grade math test scores.
- The difference in outcomes associated with moving from taking no rigorous course to one rigorous course is larger than moving from one to more than one rigorous course.
- There are diminishing returns to taking more rigorous courses for students who are already taking rigorous courses. The largest gains appear to be for more marginal students.
The effects of rigorous courses on graduation and college going are remarkably similar across the five subjects explored.
- Black and "poor" students are the least likely to take advanced courses (those students are less than half as likely to take a Level-3 course than their White and non-poor peers); male students are less likely to take advanced courses than females; and high ability students are far more likely to take an advanced course than slightly above average students. Additionally, the number of students taking advanced courses is significantly higher in low poverty or high ability schools than in high poverty or low ability schools.
- However, once students are enrolled in an advanced class, most of the relationships between course-taking and outcomes are the same across demographic groups.
- Increase the number of students taking some rigorous courses, while avoiding going overboard in advocating for additional rigor for students with already demanding curriculum.
Cohort of students from Florida who were enrolled in the 8th grade in 1998-1999 or who entered the cohort in subsequent years and grades and who would be on track to graduate in 2002-2003 assuming grade normal progression from the 8th grade forward.
Year data is from:
Data Collection and Analysis:
Panel data provided by the Florida Department of Education from a census of public schools students in the state of Florida.
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