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Conceptual Framework

Although this chapter provides information on elementary/secondary achievement in mathematics and science of students by race/ethnicity and by sex (updated data similar to those provided in earlier versions of the Women and Minorities report), test scores are not its primary focus. Nor is the purpose of this chapter to describe all facets of elementary/secondary science and mathematics education for females and minorities, as other NSF reports have provided various statistics on characteristics of the mathematics and science education of the almost 50 million (and growing) students in our Nation's schools, including data on females and on underrepresented minorities (National Science Foundation 1993, 1994).
Rather than trying to describe all characteristics of elementary/secondary mathematics and science education for females and for underrepresented minorities, therefore, this chapter focuses on selected characteristics. A large national data base allowed the integrated study of individual achievement for these population groups in conjunction with data on family resources and activities, school climate and learning opportunities, and community characteristics. (See figure 2-1.) Variables that were shown to be strongly correlated to achievement in mathematics and science in this study are highlighted in this chapter. The information presented on students with disabilities also considers broader issues of instructional environment and student needs.

Figure 2-1

Although this chapter presents data from a variety of sources, it primarily uses the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88), a large-scale longitudinal survey sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, and the National Science Foundation. This national study began in 1988 with a sample of about 24,000 eighth grade students who have been surveyed biennially to obtain rich information about student characteristics and family background, as well as school context and achievement outcomes. NELS:88 collected data on science and mathematics achievement scores, coursework in school, attitudes toward mathematics and science classes, and a variety of other education-related factors. Half of the students surveyed were female and approximately one-third were underrepresented minorities (black, Hispanic, or American Indian).
This chapter uses regression analysis to determine which variables are most closely associated with student achievement. The limitations to this approach are twofold: (1) The analysis only includes those variables that were collected in the survey (for example, it does not include such things as the actual processes that occur in a classroom). (2) Although a variable may be highly correlated with achievement, it does not necessarily mean that factor causes high achievement levels; that a variable had a high correlation means only that a close association exists between mathematics and science achievement and that variable. Correlation coefficients then provide indicators of the strength of the relationship. Given these limitations, the purpose of this chapter is to examine factors that are strongly related to achievement in science and mathematics in this study-factors that can be changed by students, parents, teachers, schools, and policymakers-in order to increase the representation of women and minorities in the science and engineering workforce.


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