Academic journal article High School Journal

Racial Differences in Mathematics Test Scores for Advanced Mathematics Students

Academic journal article High School Journal

Racial Differences in Mathematics Test Scores for Advanced Mathematics Students

Article excerpt

Research on achievement gaps has found that achievement gaps are larger for students who take advanced mathematics courses compared to students who do not. Focusing on the advanced mathematics student achievement gap, this study found that African American advanced mathematics students have significantly lower test scores and are less likely to be proficient at all mathematics skill subdomains compared to White advanced mathematics students. Interestingly, African American students who take calculus as their highest level of mathematics in high school have similar achievement levels as White advanced mathematics students who have trigonometry/ pre-calculus as their highest level of mathematics in high school.

Keywords: Achievement Gap, Course Selection (Students), Secondary School Mathematics, Mathematics Achievement, Mathematics Skills, African American Education

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Achievement gaps have been a longstanding area of sociological research given the implications for social stratification. Through decades of study, researchers have identified student course taking as a mechanism that explains inequality in educational outcomes such as mathematics test scores (Gamoran, 1987; Lleras, 2008; Kelly, 2009; Schneider, Swanson, & Riegle-Crumb, 1997; Carbonaro & Covay, 2010). Research has found that students in more advanced mathematics courses tend to perform higher than students in lower level courses during their schooling careers (Bozick, Ingels, & Owings, 2008) even when controlling for ability (Gamoran, 1987). Yet, research has also shown there is inequality in access to advanced course taking. Researchers have found that African American students are less likely to take advanced courses as compared to White students within the same school (Kelly, 2009; Lleras, 2008). However, inequality with regard to access to higher course taking is not the only inequality that has adversely affected mathematics course taking for African American students.

Even when the examination of achievement gaps has been constrained to advanced mathematics students, the gaps continued to exist and were, in fact, larger than the gaps among students taking lower level courses (Riegle-Crumb & Grodsky, 2010).While research has shown that achievement gaps exist among our most advanced students, researchers know little about this gap. For example, little research has focused on achievement gaps within the courses (e.g., trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus) themselves. Additionally, researchers know little about what the African American-White gap among advanced mathematics students means in terms of the types of mathematics skill students possess. Do African American advanced mathematics students have lower achievement than White students on (a) basic mathematics knowledge and skills? (b) advanced mathematics knowledge and skills, or (c) both basic and advanced mathematics knowledge and skills? In other words, is the advanced mathematics student achievement gap present at various levels of mathematics knowledge? The current study explored the African American-White achievement gap among advanced mathematics students in order to gain a greater understanding of where the gap occurs not only in terms of the specific courses but also in terms of differences in mathematics skills. By having a fuller understanding of this gap, researchers, policymakers, and schools can help to reduce the achievement gap.

Focusing specifically on advanced mathematics students and mathematics outcomes, this study found that there are significant differences between African American and White advanced mathematics students in terms of their mathematics test scores. More specifically, African American advanced mathematics students were significantly less likely to be proficient in mathematics skills such as low level mathematics concepts as well as the use of multiple steps to solve problems compared to White advanced mathematics students. …

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