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Introduction Chapter 1: Elementary and Secondary Education Chapter 2: Undergraduate Enrollment Chapter 3: Undergraduate Degrees Chapter 4: Graduate Enrollment Chapter 5: Graduate Degrees Chapter 6: Employment Technical Notes Appendix Tables
Chapter Contents:
Overview
Differences in coursetaking and achievement
Factors related to coursetaking and achievement
High school completion
References
 
Sidebars
Appendix Tables
List of Figures
Presentation Slides

Precollege Education

Differences in coursetaking and achievement

Mathematics coursetaking
Science coursetaking
AP coursetaking
Science and mathematics achievement

The number and type of precollege courses taken in mathematics and science are important indicators of preparation for undergraduate majors and coursetaking as well as of general scientific literacy. They are also two of the major factors positively related to elementary and secondary mathematics and science achievement (Oakes 1990, U.S. ED/NCES 1995).

Between 1990 and 1998, the percentage of high school graduates who had taken advanced mathematics and science coursework increased. In 1990, 13 percent of all high school graduates reported that they had taken precalculus. By 1998, that proportion had increased to 23 percent. There was a similar increase in advanced science coursework: between 1990 and 1998, the percentage of high school graduates taking chemistry rose from 49 to 60 percent. (See appendix table 1-1.)

Gains in science and mathematics coursetaking have occurred for both male and female students and for students in all racial/ethnic groups. Despite these gains over time, some differences in coursetaking remain, particularly among racial/ethnic groups and between students with and without disabilities. These differences are related to variations in science and mathematics achievement.

Mathematics coursetaking  top of page

Females

From 1990 to 1998, both male and female high school students experienced gains in mathematics coursetaking. (See appendix table 1-1.) In 1998, similar percentages of graduates of both sexes had completed various high school math courses. Specifically, 60 percent of male and 64 percent of female high school graduates had taken algebra II. The proportions were also similar for both sexes, albeit much lower, for more advanced high school math courses: 23 percent of graduates of both sexes had taken precalculus, and 11 percent of both had taken calculus. (See appendix table 1-1.)

Minorities

The percentages of black and Hispanic students taking higher level mathematics courses increased between 1990 and 1998. In 1990, 41 percent of black high school graduates had taken algebra II; by 1998, 56 percent had taken this course. Similarly, 56 percent of black high school graduates in 1990 had taken geometry, and 3 percent had taken calculus. These percentages had increased by the end of the decade to 73 and 7 percent, respectively. (See appendix table 1-2.)

Differences in mathematics coursetaking were less across racial/ethnic groups in 1998 than in 1990, but still existed. Black, Hispanic, and American Indian high school graduates in 1998 were less likely than their white or Asian counterparts to have taken higher level mathematics courses. (See figure 1-1 figure.) While 65 percent of white and 70 percent of Asian students had taken algebra II, 56 percent of blacks, 48 percent of Hispanics, and 47 percent of American Indians had taken this course. Asians were the most likely of any racial/ethnic group to have taken the most advanced mathematics courses. More than 40 percent of Asian high school graduates had taken precalculus and 18 percent had taken calculus in 1998. By contrast, 25 percent of white, 16 percent of American Indian, 15 percent of Hispanic, and 14 percent of black students had taken precalculus; and 12 percent of white, 7 percent of black, and 6 percent each of Hispanic and American Indian high school graduates had taken calculus. (See appendix table 1-2.)

Students with disabilities

Twelfth grade students with disabilities earned, on average, one-half less credit in mathematics in 1992 than did those without disabilities.[1] (See appendix table 1-3.) Differences were not great by type of disability. The average number of mathematics units completed varied from 2.3 for those with learning disabilities to 2.6 for those with physical problems.

Science coursetaking  top of page

Although both male and female high school students experienced gains in science coursetaking between 1990 and 1998, some differences remained. (See appendix table 1-1.) In 1998, female high school graduates were more likely than their male counterparts to have taken biology and chemistry, and males were more likely than females to have taken physics: 91 percent of males and 94 percent of females had taken biology, 57 percent of males and 64 percent of females had taken chemistry, and 32 percent of males and 26 percent of females had taken physics.

Minorities

As in mathematics, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians are taking more science classes than in the past. The percentages of black, Hispanic, and American Indian graduates taking chemistry and physics generally increased between 1990 and 1998. In 1990, 40 percent of black, 38 percent of Hispanic, and 35 percent of American Indian high school graduates had taken chemistry. By 1998, these percentages had increased to 54, 46, and 47 percent, respectively. In 1990, 15 percent each of blacks and American Indians and 13 percent of Hispanics had taken physics; by 1998, 21 percent of blacks, 19 percent of Hispanics, and 16 percent of American Indians had taken this course before graduation. (See appendix table 1-2.)

Despite these gains, the percentages of black, Hispanic, and American Indian graduates taking chemistry and physics are well below those of whites and Asians. In 1998, 63 percent of white and 72 percent of Asian high school graduates had taken chemistry, and 31 percent of white and 46 percent of Asian students had taken physics.

Students with disabilities

Seniors with disabilities had earned about one-half less science credit in 1992 than those without disabilities. (See appendix table 1-3.) Among those with disabilities, students with emotional problems and those with multiple disabilities earned the fewest science credits by the 12th grade.

AP coursetaking  top of page

Females

Females accounted for more than half (56 percent) of all AP examination candidates in 2000. They were, however, less likely than males to take AP examinations in certain mathematics and science subjects. In 2000, females made up 46 percent of AP test takers in all math subject areas and 44 percent in all science subject areas. They were more than half (58 percent) of the AP test takers in biology, 47 percent of the test takers in calculus AB, 44 percent of the test takers in chemistry, and 38 percent of the test takers in calculus BC. (See appendix table 1-4.)

Minorities

The proportion of nonwhite students taking AP exams increased from 12 percent in 1978 to 33 percent in 2000 (College Board 2000). In that year, 12 percent of the students taking AP examinations were Asian, 10 percent were Hispanic, 5 percent were black, and 0.5 percent were American Indian (another 6 percent were "other" or not stated). (See appendix table 1-4.) Asians were a higher percentage of mathematics and science AP test takers than they were of all AP test takers-they accounted for 25 percent of calculus BC test takers and 20 percent of AP chemistry test takers in 2000, but only 12 percent of all AP test takers. Conversely, Hispanics were a lower percentage of math and science AP test takers than they were of all AP test takers. Although Hispanics made up 10 percent of the students taking AP exams in all subjects, they were 5 percent of AP chemistry test takers and 3 percent of calculus BC test takers in 2000.

Science and mathematics achievement  top of page

Females

Results of the 2000 NAEP mathematics assessment show a statistically significant difference between males and females in average scores in grades 8 and 12 but no statistically significant difference in grade 4. (See appendix table 1-5.) Slight differences favoring males at some grade levels were evident in the percentages performing at the proficient and advanced levels of achievement.[2] (See appendix table 1-6.)

The 1999 NAEP long-term trend assessment in mathematics shows slight increases in the average scores between 1990 and 1999, and no statistically significant differences between male and female students' average scale scores at ages 9, 13, and 17 in 1999. (See appendix table 1-7.)

Among 4th and 8th graders, female students scored lower than male in the 2000 NAEP science assessment. On the other hand, the differences in males' and females' science scores at grade 12 were not statistically significant. (See appendix table 1-5.)

NAEP long-term trend assessments in science show no statistically significant narrowing of the gap between male and female students' science scores at ages 13 and 17 between 1990 and 1999. In 1999, males scored 6 points higher than females at age 13 and 10 points higher at age 17; no statistically significant difference existed between male and female science scores at age 9. (See appendix table 1-8.)

Minorities

Results of the 2000 NAEP mathematics assessment show persistent differences in average mathematics scores across racial/ethnic groups in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. Math scores for black, Hispanic, and American Indian students remain substantially lower than those for white and Asian students at each grade level.[3] In 12th grade, the average mathematics assessment scores for blacks (274), Hispanics (283), and American Indians (293) were at least 15 points lower than the scores for whites (308) and Asians (319). (See appendix table 1-5.)

Differences by race/ethnicity also existed in the percentages performing at the proficiency levels in mathematics. Among 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students in 2000, at least 20 percent of white students at each grade level scored at or above the proficient level, compared with 14 percent or less of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students. (See appendix table 1-6.) Higher percentages of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students than of whites at all three grade levels scored below the basic proficiency level in mathematics.

The 1999 NAEP long-term trend assessments in mathematics show no change in the gaps between white and Hispanic students at ages 9, 13, and 17 between 1990 and 1999. (See appendix table 1-7.) The gaps in mathematics scores between white and black students at ages 9 and 13 also did not change between 1990 and 1999; among 17-year-olds, however, the gap in math scores between white and black students widened.

Differences in science scores also persist across racial/ethnic groups. In 2000, scores for white students in grade 4 were greater than those for blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. Scores for white and Asian students were generally higher than those for black and Hispanic students in grades 8 and 12. Among 12th graders, average science scores were 154 for whites, 153 for Asians, 128 for Hispanics, and 123 for blacks. (See appendix table 1-5).

The 1999 NAEP long-term trend assessments in science show no change in the gaps between white and Hispanic students or those between white and black students at ages 9, 13, and 17 between 1990 and 1999. (See appendix table 1-8.) At age 9, for example, the gap between white and Hispanic students was 31 points in 1990 and 34 points in 1999. The gap between white and black 9-year-olds was 41 points in both 1990 and 1999.

Students with disabilities

Available data on students with disabilities provide limited information on their access to, and success in, mathematics and science. Students with disabilities made up 11 percent of all students in grade 4, 9 percent of those in grade 8, and 5 percent of those in grade 12 in 1996 (U.S. ED/NCES 1997c). These students took fewer science and mathematics courses, had lower grades, and had lower achievement scores than students without disabilities. Students with disabilities had lower average high school grades in mathematics and science than those without disabilities in 1992. (See appendix table 1-3.)






Footnotes

[1]  The source of these data is the National Center for Education Statistics, National Education Longitudinal Study, 1988. In this study, students were identified as disabled by their parents.

[2]  NAEP uses three achievement levels—basic, proficient, and advanced—to measure level of knowledge and skills. The basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade. The proficient level represents solid academic performance; students reaching this level demonstrate competency with a range of challenging subject matter. The advanced level signifies superior performance at a given grade. These performance levels are cumulative—students performing at the advanced or proficient level also perform at the preceding level(s).

[3]  No data are available for Asian students in grade 4.

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