Counting the Runners Who Dont Have Shoes:
Trends in Student Achievement in Science by Socioeconomic Status and Gender Within Ethnic Groups
Alberto J. Rodriguez
This paper provides a meta-analysis of current trends in student achievement in science by socioeconomic status and gender within ethnic groups. Data from a variety of sources, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) reports were used. In addition, trends in student achievement from NAEP and NELS were contrasted with trends from college-entrance exams, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT). Finally, the observed trends in achievement were further contrasted with those emerging from the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) Exams scores in science. The results of this analysis indicate that there is cause for cautious celebration. There has been some improvement in student achievement and participation in science. However, it is alarming that the observed pattern of achievement by SES and gender within ethnic groups is consistent and congruent over time and across national studies and reports regardless of age and grade level. That is, it was observed that U.S. Asian and Anglo-European students consistently outperformed underserved students. Most U.S. Latinos and First Nations students are consistently in the middle of the achievement scale, whereas Puerto Ricans and U.S. African students continue to be at the bottom of the scale.
A closer look at the quality of the achievement gaps (i.e., achievement and participation by gender within ethnic groups) and not just at the size of the gap (strict score comparisons) indicates that much more could be learned from this form of analysis. In other words, more useful information from achievement scores was revealed when achievement by gender within each ethnic group was used as the unit of analysis instead of only using the achievement scores of Asian and Anglo-European males as the unit of analysis. For example, I found that in the last five years, and in spite of their low numbers, the absolute number of U.S. African females who outperformed their male counterparts in AP science tests has been increasing substantially. Therefore, this study points to the importance of conducting a longitudinal study with underserved students who have been successful in science in spite of the variety of institutional and social obstacles they continue to face. By better understanding the factors influencing success in science courses from the traditionally underserved students' points of view, educators will be able to develop more effective and responsive intervention programs.
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