Are ISHS Students Actually More Successful in STEM?
Our analyses of student surveys administered in spring of the senior year at 12 ISHSs and 18 non-STEM comparison schools serving similar students indicate that attending a North Carolina ISHS enhances students’ general academic orientation, leads to increased involvement in math-related out-of-class activities, and raises the likelihood that students will complete pre-calculus or calculus in high school. This latter difference was quite large: 12th graders at ISHSs were nearly 5 times more likely than those at comparison schools to have completed calculus or pre-calculus, even after adjusting for whether or not they took Algebra I or a more advanced math course in grade 8.
A second set of analyses used student outcome data from state administrative records for a larger set of both ISHS and non-STEM high schools. Longitudinal data for students who were in the 12th grade in one of North Carolina’s 20 ISHSs with a senior class in 2012-13 were compared to data for peers in 90 non-STEM schools serving students within the same districts who were similar in terms of demographic and achievement variables measured in grade 8. Twelfth-grade outcome variables included high school GPA, persistence from 9th to 12th grade, earning a high school diploma, taking a college entrance examination, and intent to enter a 2- or 4-year college after graduation.
After controlling for grade 8 student characteristics and school-level variables such as Title I status and percentage of low-income students, we found that students who entered an ISHS in grade 9 were more likely than their counterparts entering other schools within the same district to still be in a North Carolina high school in grade 12 and to earn a high school diploma (both p < .01). Students in the two school samples were equally likely to have taken a college entrance exam. Among students who took the ACT (the prevalent college entrance exam in North Carolina), those who had entered an ISHS in grade 9 had higher composite scores (p < .05) and a higher score on the science portion of the examination (p < .001) with equivalent scores on other portions of the test.