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CHAPTER 2


PRECOLLEGE EDUCATION

Mathematics Course Taking
Science Course Taking
Science and Mathematics Achievement
Students With Disabilities
Transition to Higher Education
References

SIDEBAR: American Indian Schools
SIDEBAR: Course Taking and Test Performance

Differences in science and mathematics achievement by sex and by race/ethnicity appear as early as elementary school and widen in secondary school. The lag in achievement by women and minority students may hinder their participation in science and engineering higher education and careers because they have less of a foundation for such pursuits. Many factors contribute to differences in achievement, including course taking, family background, and school characteristics such as tracking, teachers' judgments about ability, number and quality of science and mathematics courses offered, access to qualified teachers, access to resources, and curricula emphases. This chapter examines precollege science and mathematics course taking, achievement, factors influencing achievement, and the transition to higher education.

Mathematics Course Taking

Women

The number of courses taken in mathematics and science is an important indicator of preparation for undergraduate majors in science and engineering as well as of general scientific literacy. Female students are similar to males in mathematics course taking at all levels, according to the 1992 National Education Longitudinal Study Transcripts. More than half of both male and female high school graduates in 1992 had taken algebra I, algebra II, and geometry, but far fewer had taken trigonometry and calculus in high school. Nevertheless, the same percentages of male and female students had taken these advanced courses: 21 percent of both had taken trigonometry and 10 percent of both had taken calculus. Similar percentages of male and female students had taken advanced placement calculus: 6 percent of males and 5 percent of females. (See appendix table 2-1.)

Minorities

Racial/ethnic groups differ greatly in mathematics course taking. Black and Hispanic high school graduates in 1992 were far less likely than white and Asian students to have taken advanced mathematics courses and far more likely to have taken remedial mathematics courses. Thirty-one percent of blacks, 24 percent of Hispanics, and 35 percent of American Indians, compared with about 15 percent of whites and Asians, had taken remedial mathematics in high school. Although about 60 percent of both white and Asian students had taken algebra II, less than half of blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians had taken this course. Asians were most likely of any racial/ethnic group to have taken advanced mathematics courses. Almost one-third of Asians had taken trigonometry, and one-fifth had taken calculus. By contrast, 22 percent of whites, 13 percent of blacks, 15 percent of Hispanics, and 10 percent of American Indians had taken trigonometry, and far smaller percentages took precalculus or calculus. (See appendix table 2-1.)

Although substantial differences in course taking by racial/ethnic groups remain, the percentages of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students taking many basic and advanced mathematics courses doubled between 1982 and 1992. For example, 30 percent of black high school graduates in 1982 had taken geometry, and 1 percent had taken calculus. By 1992, this had increased to 60 percent and 7 percent respectively. (See appendix table 2-1.)

Science Course Taking

Women

Male and female high school students did not differ greatly in science course taking in 1992, except in physics. Similar percentages of both male and female high school graduates had taken biology and chemistry: 92 percent of males and 94 percent of females had taken biology, and 54 percent of males and 57 percent of females had taken chemistry. Male students, however, were more likely than females to have taken physics: 28 percent of males and 21 percent of females had taken physics. Male students were also more likely than females to have taken advanced placement physics. Female students have made gains over the last several years, however: in 1982, only 9 percent of women had taken physics in high school. (See appendix table 2-2.)

A study undertaken by the American Institute of Physics indicates female students are increasing their share of physics enrollment. Women constituted 43 percent of high school physics enrollment in 1993, up from 39 percent in 1987. They were a smaller fraction, though, of physics students in the more advanced classes. For example, female students were 46 percent of students in the physics for nonscience students classes but only 27 percent of the calculus-based advanced placement course enrollment in physics (Neuschatz and Alpert 1995).

Minorities

Racial/ethnic differences in science course taking are pronounced. Black and Hispanic students are far less likely than white students to have taken advanced science courses. Although black and Hispanic high school graduates are about equally likely as white and Asian students to have taken biology, they are much less likely than whites and Asians to have taken chemistry or physics. Only 46 percent of black, 43 percent of Hispanic, and 33 percent of American Indian high school graduates had taken chemistry compared with 58 percent of white and 67 percent of Asian high school graduates. (See appendix table 2-2.) Although 42 percent of Asian and 26 percent of white students had taken physics, less than 20 percent of black, Hispanic, and American Indian students had taken physics in high school.

Although the gap in science course taking between whites and underrepresented minorities remains, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians are taking more science classes than they took in the past. The percentage of blacks and Hispanics taking chemistry and physics doubled between 1982 and 1992. In 1982, 23 percent of black and 17 percent of Hispanic high school graduates had taken chemistry. By 1992, this had increased to 46 percent and 43 percent, respectively. In 1982, approximately 7 percent each of blacks and Hispanics had taken physics; by 1992, 18 percent of blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics had taken physics. (See appendix table 2-2.)


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