Encouraging Underrepresented Minority Student Participation in the STEM Pipeline Through Authentic STEM Learning Experiences

Date

2021-05

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Abstract

Background: Although African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans collectively make up approximately 31% of the U.S. population, they receive 21% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and have gained employment in 11% of the science and engineering occupations. Researchers identify academic preparation, science self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging as major factors affecting participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs among underrepresented minority (URM) groups at the collegiate level. However, K–12 institutions have an obligation to address the inequity also. To address the inequity that exists in STEM participation at the high school level, the Texas Education Agency created inclusive Texas STEM (T-STEM) high schools as opportunity structures for URM students. Purpose: The following questions were investigated: (1) How do the demographic profiles of T-STEM high schools compare with the demographic profiles of high schools throughout Texas? (2) To what extent does attending a T-STEM high school impact achievement of college readiness indicators among African American and Hispanic students when compared with achievement of college readiness indicators among White and Asian students? (3) To what extent does attending a T-STEM high school impact participation and performance in advanced STEM courses among African American and Hispanic students when compared with participation and performance in advanced STEM courses among White and Asian students? Methods: The study used a convenience sample of 49 T-STEM high schools with independently reported postsecondary readiness data on the Texas Academic Performance Reports for the 2018–2019 school year. Performance on college entrance examinations, such as the SAT or ACT, and the Texas Success Initiative Assessment and attainment of college credit were used to analyze overall college readiness and math achievement. Participation and performance in math and science Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (AP/IB) and dual credit courses were used to evaluate interest in advanced STEM courses. Data were analyzed at the campus level and disaggregated for African American, Hispanic, White, and Asian populations. SPSS was used to analyze group differences using independent sample t tests; descriptive statistics were utilized to describe sample demographics and general performance across outcomes. Results: T-STEM schools are graduating higher populations of economically disadvantaged, at-risk, and URM students than Texas high schools overall. The major area of concern that still exists at T-STEM schools is academic preparation. Significant differences exist for URM student groups in the areas of SAT/ACT college readiness benchmark achievement, math achievement, and AP/IB exam performance. Although significant differences in college readiness and advanced STEM course participation still exist for URM student groups when compared with Asian students, T-STEM schools are having better outcomes for URM student groups when compared with their peers throughout Texas. Conclusion: Although T-STEM schools may provide more opportunities for exposure to STEM and postsecondary education, URM student groups at T-STEM schools are still lagging in academic achievement overall when compared with White and Asian students. The most effective tool to encourage persistence in the STEM pipeline is academic preparation. The math achievement gap needs to be addressed before high school. Future research should include evaluating teacher implementation of inquiry-based instructional practices.

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Keywords

URM, STEM, college readiness, achievement, inquiry

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