Why Does High School Coursework Matter? The Case for Increasing Exposure to Advanced Courses

High school student studying at school desk
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Increasing the rigor of courses taken in high school is a crucial part of education policy. However, existing knowledge about high school coursework is outdated.

Using data from a recent nationally representative data set, this brief reports results that expand our knowledge base on the relationship between rigorous coursework and postsecondary outcomes. Findings show that

  1. Timing of the course-taking matters.
  2. Advanced coursework is important.
  3. Students who take diverse courses are likely to have better postsecondary outcomes.
  4. Both the quality and quantity of the coursework matters.

Using traditional analyses along with data mining machine learning and quasi-experimental methods, we found that students who follow advanced coursework tracks in math, science, and English Language Arts are more likely to enter selective 4-year colleges compared with their peer who were in more conventional tracks.

The results of this study have implications for students, parents, educators, policymakers, and researchers. Students and their parents who would like to increase students’ chances of becoming successful after high school should ensure students do not fall behind in taking the specific courses outlined in this study and enroll in advanced courses after completing the prerequisites for those courses.

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A190073 to the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.