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High School Students Taking More Math and Science Courses

High school students are being told to take more rigorous math and science courses if they want to be prepared for college and get lucrative jobs in STEM careers.

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest they are taking that advice.

In the 2013 Condition of Education report released Thursday, researchers looked at transcripts analyzed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 9th through 12th graders. They found that the percentages of high school graduates who had taken mathematics courses in Algebra 1, geometry, Algebra 2/trigonometry, analysis/precalculus, statistics/probability, and calculus increased in the past two decades.

While 7 percent of high school students took calculus in 1990, in 2009, nearly 16 percent did. The percentage of graduates who had completed Algebra 2/trigonometry increased from 54 percent to 76 percent in the same period.

Those from racial and ethnic minority groups also stepped up to the challenge. The percentage of Hispanic graduates completing calculus increased from 4 percent in 1990 to 9 percent in 2009. And those taking Algebra 2/trigonometry went from 40 percent to 71 percent. In the same period, black students taking calculus rose from 3 percent to 6 percent and those finishing Algebra 2/trigonometry increased from 44 percent to 71 percent.

Similar gains were seen in science course participation.

The percentage of high school graduates who had taken chemistry increased from 49 percent to 70 percent, and the percentage of graduates who had completed physics courses increased from 21 percent to 36 percent between 1990 and 2009. The percentage of graduates who earned at least one credit in biology, chemistry, and physics increased from 19 percent to 30 percent in the same two decades. Increases in science enrollment were reflected among students in most racial/ethnic groups.

Students at private schools were more likely to sign up for advanced-level math and science courses than those attending public schools, the NCES report found.

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