Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Mathematics Readiness of First-Year University Students

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Mathematics Readiness of First-Year University Students

Article excerpt

The persistent decline in mathematics performance of students who transition into college is a phenomenon that continues to be a national concern in the United States. A plethora of studies have shown that many high school graduates, particularly ethnic minorities students, are academically underprepared for college mathematics and science courses (ACT 2008). Green and Winter (2005) reported in a study that only 34% of2002 graduating high school students had acquired the necessary skills for college-level work, and "only 23% of African-American students and 20% of Hispanic students left school college ready, compared with 40% of White students" (p. 7). In a similar study, the ACT (2008) calculated the benchmark of four score areas to determine the academic readiness of students by ethnicity. In Pennsylvania, the study found that 36% of White students met the ACT college readiness benchmark compared to 46% Asians, 20% Hispanics, and 5% Africa-American students.

Factors associated with mathematics skill deficiency have been widely studied. Lewis (1998) acknowledged that many students are admitted to universities with low mathematics skills. More rigorous high school math curriculum continues to show positive outcomes for student success in college math courses, as well as overall college graduation rates. However, not all students, particularly underrepresented minorities attend high schools with equally rigorous math curriculum. The widening academic preparation and achievement gap between ethnic minorities and White students has been attributed among other factors to socioeconomic status of high school district and the quality of education students received (Sterling, 2004). The majority of underrepresented minority students are attending high schools located in under-resourced school districts that lack the quality of teaching and instruction needed to prepare them with the competencies and skills to be successful in math and science disciplines. High poverty schools have mathematics teachers who may hold both a license and a degree in the field they are teaching (Sterling, 2004). Yet many colleges use high school math completion as a predictor for success in college. Although some entering college students may have completed similar levels of mathematics in their respective high schools, the rigorousness of the curriculum in each school may not be the same due to various factors such as the location and district of the high school, the quality of instruction received by students, and the pedigree of high school teachers. Students who did not attend high quality high schools may not have the opportunity to take advanced-level courses and typically are not ready for college-level mathematics (Boylan, 1995; Sterling, 2004). For such students, their needs for developmental-level mathematics become paramount at the college level.

The magnitude of this problem is evidenced by the existing enrollment disparity in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields between gender and among different ethnicities. Currently, whites make up 82.3% of the science, mathematics, and engineering workforce compared to 10.4% Asian Americans, 3.4% African Americans, 3.1% Hispanics, and 0.3% American Indians (National Science Board, 2000). Despite national efforts to close this gap, majority populations continue to dominate math-based career fields. Realizing the importance of math preparedness to academic success and the impact of student success on college persistence and retention, this study examines first-time, full-time students' readiness for college mathematics as measured by their performance in select mathematics courses taken during their first semester of enrollment at a four-year comprehensive public university.

Literature Review

Various studies have examined success in collegelevel math (Benbow & Arjmand, 1990; Spade, Columba, & Vanfossen, 1997) using a range of variables includinggender differences in math (Boaler, 1997), gender and minority comparisons (Clewell, Anderson, & Thorpe, 1992), gender comparisons in general (Adelman, 1998; Arnold, 1993; Astin & Sax, 1996; National Research Council, 1991; NSF, 1996; Schaefers, Epperson, & Nauta, 1997; Yauch, 1999) and first-generation and socioeconomic status (Ting, 1998). …

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