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America's High School Graduates - The Nation's Report Card group of high school students



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Executive Summary

This report presents information about the types of courses 2005 high school graduates took during high school, how many credits they earned, and the grades they received. Information on the relationships between high school records and performance in mathematics and science on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is also included. Transcripts were collected from about 640 public schools and 80 private schools for the 2005 High School Transcript Study (HSTS). These transcripts constituted a nationally representative sample of 26,000 high school graduates, representing approximately 2.7 million 2005 high school graduates. The 2005 results are compared to the results of earlier transcript studies, and differences among graduates by race/ethnicity, gender, and parent education are examined. Because the study is restricted to high school graduates, it contains no information about dropouts who may differ from graduates. Graduates who receive a special education diploma or certificate of completion are also excluded from analyses in this report unless noted otherwise.

Graduates earn more credits and achieve higher GPAs

  • In 2005, graduates earned about three credits more than their 1990 counterparts, or about 360 additional hours of instruction during their high school careers.
  • In 2005, the overall grade point average (GPA) was approximately a third of a letter grade higher than in 1990. There are many possible reasons for this apparent increase, including "grade inflation," changes in grading standards and practices, and growth in student performance.

Graduates with stronger academic records obtain higher NAEP scores

  • Graduates whose highest mathematics course was geometry or below had average NAEP mathematics scores below the Basic achievement level. Graduates who took calculus had average NAEP scores at the Proficient level.
  • Graduates whose highest science course was chemistry or below had average NAEP science scores below the Basic achievement level, while those who had completed physics or other advanced science courses had average scores at the Basic level. Advanced science courses are courses that contain advanced content (like AP biology, IB chemistry, AP physics, etc.) or are considered second-year courses (chemistry II, advanced biology, etc.).
  • Graduates who had completed a rigorous curriculum or had GPAs placing them in the top 25 percent of graduates had higher average NAEP scores than other graduates.

Comparisons by gender

  • Male and female graduates’ GPAs overall and in mathematics and science have increased since 1990. Female graduates’ GPAs overall and in mathematics and science were higher than the GPAs of male graduates during each year the HSTS was conducted.
  • In 2005, a higher percentage of female than male graduates completed a rigorous or midlevel curriculum, compared to 1990 when there was no significant difference in the percentage of males and females completing at least a midlevel curriculum.
  • Among those who have taken higher level mathematics and science courses, male graduates had higher NAEP scores than female graduates. There was no significant difference in scores between males and females who had not taken these higher level courses.

Comparisons by race/ethnicity

  • Increased percentages of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander graduates completed at least a midlevel curriculum in 2005 compared with 1990. The GPAs of all four racial/ethnic groups also increased during this time.
  • Since 1990, Black graduates have closed a 6 percentage point gap with White graduates in the percentage completing at least a midlevel curriculum; however, the corresponding White-Hispanic gap in 2005 was not significantly different from that in 1990.
  • In 2005, both Black and Hispanic graduates were less likely than White graduates to have completed calculus or advanced science courses and to have higher GPAs.

Comparisons by parental education

  • In 2005, high school graduates with at least one college-educated parent averaged more credits in all course types than those whose parents were not college educated.
  • Graduates with at least one parent who graduated from college were more likely to complete a rigorous curriculum than graduates whose parents were not college educated.
National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Assessment Governing Board
National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences
U.S. Department of Education

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Transcript Study (HSTS), various years, 1990-2005.