Factors Affecting Mathematically Talented Females' Enrollment in High School Calculus

By Reynolds, Nancy G.; Conaway, Betty J. | Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Factors Affecting Mathematically Talented Females' Enrollment in High School Calculus


Reynolds, Nancy G., Conaway, Betty J., Journal of Secondary Gifted Education


The purpose of this study was to determine if identifying factors existed that would explain differential mathematics participation among females in high school, specifically the enrollment in high school calculus. The factors investigated were socioeconomic status, educational aspirations, the education of both parents, and the number of siblings. The database used for this study was taken from the National Educational Longitudinal Study (NELS: 88) and the follow-up conducted in 1992. The sample for the present research was composed of females enrolled in algebra at the onset of this study who scored in the fourth quartile on the mathematics section of the standardized test. The results showed a difference between the two groups in mother's education, SES, and educational aspirations. However, when applying all factors together in a logistical regression, the results of this research determined that the factors did not have predictive value in determining the probability of a mathematically talented female e nrolling in high school Calculus. This research suggests that some factors that affect course taking in the general population of students may not be generalized to mathematically talented females.

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With the onset of the technological age, students must complete as much math as possible during high school. Mathematical skills are essential to gaining access to college and pursuing a career in a math-, science-, or technologically related field (McClure, 1998). A student's mathematical ability can be a determining factor in choosing a career. Among the 10 fastest growing careers, the top 5 are computer-related, some of which rely greatly on mathematics knowledge. These careers include computer engineers, computer support specialists, systems analysts, database administrators, and desktop publishing specialists (McClain, 2001). Young people who continue the math sequence throughout high school will have additional career opportunities (Leder, 1992; Smith, 1980).

At one time, the difference between the participation of males and females in advanced mathematics was considerable (Armstrong, 1980; NAEP, 1983). In 1979, research suggested that, even among students deemed mathematically gifted, boys were more likely than girls to complete higher level math courses in high school (Fox, 1979). However, more recent studies have suggested that this gender difference appears to be decreasing. The study entitled "Findings From the Educational Progress of Women" (U.S. Dept. of Education, 1995) reported that females are as likely as males to take advanced math courses. This report stated that, from 1982 to 1992, the percentage of both female and male graduates who took advanced math courses in high school increased. In the class of 1992, females were less likely than males to rake remedial math in high school, more likely to take Algebra II, and just as likely to take calculus.

Students may find that they are deficient in math when applying to the college they have selected. One reason for this circumstance may be that their advanced math classes were not starred early enough in their schooling (Pelavin & Kane, 1990).

Algebra must begin in the eighth grade for students to enroll in calculus, the final course in the mathematics sequence of most high schools (Alford, 1997). Although about one out of four students enrolls in a mathematics course beyond algebra, approximately one out of nine continue the mathematics sequence by taking calculus in high school (Rock & Pollack, 1995). It is this continuation of the math classes throughout the high school years that must be examined. While the authors of the present research understand the importance of all students, male and female, raking as much mathematics as possible, we chose to limit the present research to factors that affect course taking of mathematically talented females. By identifying factors that may predict which females will complete the sequence of courses, educators can attend to the needs of the females prior to eighth-grade algebra. …

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