High School Curriculum: How important is rigor? - FAQ

High School Curriculum: How important is rigor?

High School Socioeconomic Segregation and Student Attainment
Purpose: To examine the associations between socioeconomic composition (SEC) and attainment measured at two critical transitions—high school graduation and college enrollment—and to investigate school mechanisms that mediate those associations
Issue/Topic: Desegregation; Student Achievement--Closing the Achievement Gap
Author(s): Palardy, Gregory
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 3/26/2013

Question 1 To what degree do student attainment, academic and family background, and school factors vary in low, medium, and high SEC schools?

Equity or Marginalization?: The High School Course-Taking of Students Labeled With a Learning Disability
Purpose: To investigate whether students labeled with learning disabilities complete fewer academic courses by the end of high school compared to their peers who are not labeled, when both cohorts have similar backround characteristics, early high school experiences, achievement, attitudes, and behaviors
Issue/Topic: Equity; High School--College Readiness
Author(s): Callahan, Rebecca; Muller, Chandra; Shifrer, Dara
Organization(s): Rice University; University of Texas
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 1/1/2013
  • Findings suggest that students labeled with a learning disablity (LD) have considerably poorer course-taking outcomes than students who are not labeled with disability but are otherwise similar.
  • Results are consistent with t...

The Impact of Dual Enrollment on College Degree Attainment: Do Low-SES Students Benefit?
Purpose: To examine the influence of dual enrollment on college degree attainment and whether these influences equally benefit all students or only high-SES students.
Issue/Topic: High School--Dual/Concurrent Enrollment; P-16 or P-20
Author(s): An, Brian
Publication: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Published on: 10/9/2012

Key Finding
  • Dual enrollment positively influences college degree attainment, even after accounting for student, family,...

The Ineffectiveness of High School Graduation Requirement Reforms: A Story of Implementation and Enforcement?
Purpose: To determine whether the relative ineffectiveness of graduation credit requirement reforms is in part the result of lax implementation and enforcement of these policies.
Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; High School--Graduation Requirements
Published on: 8/25/2012
Findings/Results: Approximately 18% of students who received a diploma in 2004 did not meet all requirements in either math, science, or both subjects. Approximately 9% of diploma recipients failed to achieve their state's mathematics requirements and more than 11% fai...

Does Raising the Bar Level the Playing Field?: Mathematics Curricular Intensification and Inequality in American High Schools, 1982-2004
Purpose: To investigate the consequences of academic intensification for social stratification in American high schools, particularly focusing on inequalities in access to higher level math courses such as calculus.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Mathematics; Equity
Author(s): Domina, Thurston; Saldana, Joshua
Publication: American Education Research Journal
Published on: 7/11/2012
Findings/Results: Race, class and skills gaps in geometry, algebra II, and trigonometry completion have narrowed considerably over the study period. Consistent with the theory of maximally maintained inequality, however, inequalities in calculus completion remain pronounce...

Effects of High School Course-Taking on Secondary and Postsecondary Success
Purpose: 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.
Issue/Topic: High School
Author(s): Conger, Dylan; Iatarola, Patrice; Long, Mark
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 4/12/2012
  • 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 on...

College for All: Gaps Between Desirable and Actual P-12 Math Achievement Trajectories for College Readiness
Purpose: This study addresses missing links in the current P-16 education and "College for All" debates by investigating gaps between actual and desirable math achievement trajectories for different college pathways. The goals of the study are twofold: (1) to compare performance standards, benchmarks, and norms for college readiness, and; (2) to assess college readiness gaps among all students as well as among racial and social groups.
Issue/Topic: High School--College Readiness; P-16 or P-20
Published on: 3/5/2012
Findings/Results: 1. This study revealed large disparities between actual and desirable math achievement levels for college readiness.

2. Math achievement was a good predictor of whether students in P-12 stay on track toward 2 or 4 year college education.

3. ...

Curricular Coherence and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
Purpose: To explore the relationship of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) to student achievement
Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Mathematics; Standards--Common Core State Standards
Author(s): Houang, Richard; Schmidt, William
Organization(s): Michigan State University
Publication: Educational Researcher
Published on: 1/1/2012
  • A very high degree of similarity exists between the CCSSM and the standards of the highest achieving nations on the 1995 Third International Mathematics and Science Study.
  • A wide variation in the proximity of state standards to th...

Balancing Career and Technical Education With Academic Coursework: The Consequences for Mathematics Achievement in High School
Purpose: To examine the relationship between CTE coursework and mathematics achievement in high school
Issue/Topic: Career/Technical Education; Curriculum--Mathematics
Author(s): Bozick, Robert; Dalton, Benjamin
Organization(s): Rand Corporation; RTI International
Publication: Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Published on: 1/1/2012
  • CTE courses neither limit overall gains in mathematics learning nor the acquisition of basic and intermediate mathematics skills, a finding that should assuage the concerns of those who worry that the expansion of CTE will undermine the efforts of...

Algebra: A Challenge at the Crossroads of Policy and Practice
Purpose: To provide an assessment of what we know about selective and “universal algebra” policies, including who is getting access to algebra and at what point in their educational careers. Also assessed is the knowledge base regarding what is taught in the name of algebra and the outcomes associated with different patterns of algebra course taking.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Mathematics; Instructional Approaches--Tracking/Ability Grouping
Author(s): Hillen, Amy; Kaufman, Julia; Sherman, Milan; Stein, Mary
Organization(s): Carnegie Mellon University; Kennesaw State College; Portland State University; University of Pittsburgh
Publication: Review of Educational Research
Published on: 12/20/2011

U.S. Trends for Who Takes Algebra and When, and What Algebra is Taken

  • There has been a significant increase in eighth grade Algebra I enrollment over the past two decades.  As a consequence, there have been small declines in...

Content Coverage Differences across Districts/States: A Persisting Challenge for U.S. Education Policy
Purpose: To explore the relationship between classroom mathematics content coverage and student achievement
Issue/Topic: Equity; Standards
Author(s): Cogan, Leland; Houang, Richard; McKnight, Curtis; Schmidt, William
Organization(s): Michigan State University; University of Oklahoma
Publication: American Journal of Education
Published on: 1/1/2011

Significant differences in content coverage do exist as a function of the U.S. education system, and this is related to the observed student achievement differences.

1. In the 13 districts examined, vast variation in math content existed and non...

Tripartite Growth Trajectories of Reading and Math Achievement: Tracking National Academic Progress at Primary, Middle, and High School Levels
Purpose: To examine trends in American students' growth trajectories in reading and math achievement over the past three decades.
Issue/Topic: P-16 or P-20; Student Achievement
Author(s): Lee, Jaekyung
Organization(s): State University of New York at Buffalo
Publication: American Educational Research Journal
Published on: 1/1/2010

1. American students may be gaining ground at the pre/early primary school level, holding ground at the middle school level, and losing ground at the high school level.

2. The comparison of standardized reading and math gains clearly suggests tha...

Passing Through Science: The Effects of Raising Graduation Requirements in Science on Course-Taking and Academic Achievement in Chicago
Purpose: To examine the effects of implementing a universal science mandate in a large urban district.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Science; High School--Graduation Requirements
Author(s): Allensworth, Elaine; Correa, Macarena; Montgomery, Nicholas
Organization(s): Consortium on Chicago School Research
Published on: 1/1/2010
  • The change in graduation requirements led substantially more students to take and pass three or more full science courses.
  • Despite large increases in course-taking, there is little evidence they learned substantially more. Most gr...

Explaining Gaps in Readiness for College-Level Math: The Role of High School Courses
Purpose: To estimate how much of the racial, socioeconomical and gender gaps in high school and postsecondary outcomes are determined by the courses that students take while in high school.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum--Mathematics; High School--College Readiness; Postsecondary Participation--Access
Author(s): Conger, Dylan; Iatarola, Patrice; Long, Mark
Organization(s): Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, Florida State University; Evans School, University of Washington; Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, George Washington University
Publication: Education Finance and Policy
Published on: 12/1/2008

Less than half of the black and poor students and just over half of the Hispanic students in the sample were prepared for college-level math - far below the readiness rates for whites, Asian and nonpoor students.

  1. The courses students take i...

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Pathways: High School Science and Math Coursework and Postsecondary Degree Attainment
Purpose: To determine how high school science and mathematics course-taking, race, class, and gender predict STEM baccalaureate degree attainment among baccalaureate degree recipients.
Issue/Topic: High School--Graduation Requirements; STEM
Author(s): Borman, Kathryn; Hanson, Mary Ann; Lee, Reginald; Tyson, Will
Organization(s): Center for Career and Community Research; University of South Florida
Publication: Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk
Published on: 1/1/2007

1. Science and Mathematics Course-taking and STEM Degree Attainment Findings:


  • Students taking Physics I and Chemistry II or Physics II (high level science courses) obtained a baccalaureate degree from a Florida university ...

Best Policies and Practices in Urban Educational Reform: A Summary of Empirical Analysis Focusing on Student Achievement and Equity
Purpose: The purpose of the study is to provide findings regarding best policies and practices in educational reform focusing on student achievement in math and science. The study explores different models linking policy implementation to student outcome.
Issue/Topic: Accountability--School Improvement; Curriculum--Mathematics; Curriculum--Science
Author(s): Crasco, Linda; Kim, Jason
Organization(s): Systemic Research, Inc.
Publication: Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk
Published on: 1/1/2006
  • In general, student achievement gains appear linked to the theoretical educational reform drivers developed by the National Science Foundation.

  • “Open access” policies show a positive relationship with student enrollment in gat...

School Context, Student Attitudes and Behavior, and Academic Achievement: An Exploratory Analysis
Purpose: What are the key factors that promote academic success among students whose demographic characteristics and school circumstances place them at high risk of failure?

NOTES FROM ECS: Holds implications for school improvement and systemic change.
Issue/Topic: At-Risk (incl. Dropout Prevention); Curriculum
Author(s): Akey, Theresa
Organization(s): MDRC
Published on: 12/1/2005
Student Attitudes and Behavior

  • Engagement in school was a critical predictor of mathematics achievement for high school students, a finding that is consistent with much of the literature. In contrast to the existing literature, t...

Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion From High School Through College
Purpose: Starting in high school, and moving into and through college, what makes a difference in completing a bachelor's degree? NOTES FROM ECS: This is a "must-read" for policymakers and their staff.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum; High School; High School--College Readiness; Postsecondary Success--Completion
Author(s): Adelman, Clifford
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Education
Publication: Toolbox Revisited: Paths to Degree Completion From High School Through College
Published on: 12/1/2005
Postsecondary Benchmarks
  • Less than 20 credits by the end of the first calendar year of enrollment (no matter in what term one started, whether summer, fall, winter, spring) is a serious drag on degree completion.
  • We falsely...

School-to-Career and Postsecondary Education: Evidence from the Philadelphia Educational Longitudinal Study (PELS)
Purpose: To study the process of selection into school-to-work programs and to examine their impact on a set of schooling- related outcomes during and after high school. To identify the causal effects of participation in school-to-career programs on high school dropout and graduation rates, postsecondary enrollment, future educational objectives and employment.
Issue/Topic: Career/Technical Education; Economic/Workforce Development
Author(s): Furstenberg, Frank; Neumark, David
Publication: National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper
Published on: 3/1/2005

High School Outcomes

  • Participation in a school-to-career program results in a decline in dropping out of high school by five or six percentage points.
  • Increased exposure to school-to-career programs is associate...

Inequitable Opportunities: How Current Education Systems and Policies Undermine the Chances for Student Persistence and Success in College
Purpose: Demonstrates that access to college-preparation-related policy information follows racial, ethnic, income and curricular tracking lines. Presents findings related to K-16 policies/practices and practitioner understanding of those policies and practices.
Issue/Topic: At-Risk (incl. Dropout Prevention); Counseling/Guidance; Curriculum; High School; High School--College Readiness; P-16 or P-20; Postsecondary Participation--Access
Author(s): Kirst, Michael; Venezia, Andrea
Organization(s): National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education; Stanford University
Publication: Educational Policy
Published on: 3/1/2005
College preparation activities and counseling

  • High-SES and Honors students tended to participate more in college preparation activities, and 11th graders were more active in, and informed about, college preparation activities tha...

Courses Count: Preparing Students for Postsecondary Success
Purpose: Why aren’t our students ready to succeed in postsecondary programs without remedial help when they leave high school?

NOTES FROM ECS: Important implications for policymakers who are considering changes to graduation requirements and other high school policies.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum; High School; High School--College Readiness
Author(s): ACT, Inc.
Published on: 12/1/2004
  • Some courses and course sequences better prepare students for postsecondary-level work than others, including: English 9 - 12; Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and one or more upper level mathematics course; and Biology, Chemistry and Physics. T...

On Course for Success: A Close Look at Selected High School Courses That Prepare All Students for College
Purpose: To look at the components of high school courses that prepare students for successful entry into postsecondary education, searching for schools where there are substantial populations of minority and low-income students and whose students take the ACT Assessment and perform well on the test.

NOTES FROM ECS: Implications for teachers, administrators, local and state policymakers
Issue/Topic: Curriculum; High School; High School--College Readiness
Author(s): Haycock, Kati
Organization(s): Education Trust
Publication: On Course for Success: A Close Look at Selected High School Courses That Prepare All Students for College
Published on: 12/1/2003
High-level college-oriented content

  • Successful students were enrolled in college-preparatory courses in their high schools and learning the skills they need to be ready for college-level work. The content of these courses put stu...

Answers In The Toolbox
Purpose: What contributes most to long-term bachelor's degree completion of students who attend four-year colleges (even if they also attend other types of institutions)?

NOTES FROM ECS: Older study that continues to add value today. One of the most frequently cited research studies.
Issue/Topic: Curriculum; High School--College Readiness; Postsecondary Participation--Access
Author(s): Adelman, Clifford
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Education
Publication: Answers in the Tool Box
Published on: 6/1/1999

High School Background

  • High school curriculum reflects 41% of the academic resources students bring to higher education; test scores, 30%; and class rank/academic GPA, 29%. No matter how one divides the universe of s...

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