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.