March 11, 2005 Extra Credit
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March 11, 2005

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New Study Shows Importance Of Preparing High School Students So They Can Fulfill Aspirations

A baseline look at the expectations of the nation's 10th-graders in 2002 shows that most (72 percent) planned to get a bachelor's degree or higher and most (83 percent) rated getting a good education as "very important," according to A Profile of the American High School Sophomore in 2002, released yesterday by the Department's National Center for Education Statistics. The majority of those sophomores also placed a premium on getting good grades, while challenging courses were key in motivating more than half of them to attend school.

Over time, it appears that more sophomores have realized the importance of a college degree. Compared to studies of sophomores in 1980 and 1990, when 41 percent and 59 percent, respectively, said that they expected to complete a bachelor's degree or higher, the 2002 10th-graders are significantly more likely (72 percent) to go on and complete a bachelor's or advanced degree.

The report delved into the alignment of sophomores' expectations for their future education and their high school preparation for it. Overall, most sophomores expected to go on to higher education: only 8 percent expected to complete only high school or less; another 10 percent expected to attend college but to obtain less than a four-year degree; 36 percent expected to graduate from a four-year program; another 20 percent to obtain a master's degree; and 16 percent to obtain a Ph.D., M.D., or other advanced doctoral or professional degree.

Yet the report found that just under two-thirds of whites who planned to complete a four-year degree were proficient in reading, while less than a third of blacks (31 percent) and just over a third (35 percent) of Hispanics were at reading level two (simple inference). Among sophomores who expected to complete at least a four-year degree, 6 percent of blacks and 12 percent of Hispanics, contrasted to 33 percent of whites, were proficient at level four of mathematics (intermediate concepts). In addition, less than one-third of 10th-graders who expected to obtain a graduate or professional degree had mastered intermediate mathematical concepts.

"This report shows that we as a society have done an excellent job of selling the dream of attending college," said Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. "But we have to make sure that we are preparing high school students to succeed once they get in the door. That's why President Bush has proposed an initiative to expand the tried and tested principles of No Child Left Behind—accountability for achievement, educational options, research-based practice and flexibility—to the nation's high schools. The High School Initiative provides for further funding of those challenging courses that attract students to school, calls for a hefty increase in Pell Grants to help more students pursue higher education, and introduces higher expectations and accountability to all high schools."

And while a third of the sophomores indicated they did not know what occupation they expected to have by age 30, nearly half said they did expect to be in a professional-level job. "I think this report is encouraging—it is even further evidence that we're on the right track in trying to reform the high school years," Spellings said. "By expanding annual assessments to upper grades, we will be able to see which students are lagging behind and help them correct that before it's too late. It will also help us restore value to the high school diploma, making it a ticket to success in the 21st century."

The full text of A Profile of the American High School Sophomore in 2002: Initial Results From the Base Year of the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 is available online at

A copy of the report can be ordered by calling toll free 1-877-4ED-Pubs (1-877-433-7827) or 1-877-576-7734 (TTY/TDD); via e-mail at; or via the Internet at


About Extra Credit
NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 03/11/2005