Are ISHS Students Actually More Successful in STEM?

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 210G (San Jose Convention Center)
Barbara Means, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA
 This study of North Carolina inclusive STEM high schools (ISHSs) and comparison schools addresses the question of whether or not ISHSs are actually fulfilling their goal of developing (rather than selecting for) the dispositions and academic competencies needed to pursue a STEM college major. After identifying ISHS and non-STEM comparison high school students who were matched on demographic variables and on academic achievement prior to high school entry, we employed  propensity-score weighting and HLM modeling to estimate the impact of attending an ISHS on STEM coursetaking, academic achievement, graduation and college aspiration. Outcome measures were obtained from student surveys and the state’s longitudinal student data system.

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.