The Impact of Institutional Factors on the Relationship between High School Mathematics Curricula and College Mathematics Course-Taking and Achievement

By Harwell, Michael; Dupuis, Danielle N. et al. | Educational Research Quarterly, March 2013 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Institutional Factors on the Relationship between High School Mathematics Curricula and College Mathematics Course-Taking and Achievement


Harwell, Michael, Dupuis, Danielle N., Post, Thomas R., Medhanie, Amanuel, LeBeau, Brandon, Educational Research Quarterly


Meta-analytic methods were used to examine the moderating effect of institutional factors on the relationship between high school mathematics curricula and college mathematics course-taking and achievement from a sample of 32 colleges. The findings suggest that the impact of curriculum on college mathematics outcomes is not generally moderated by institutional characteristics such as selectivity and educational profile, providing evidence that the relationships between curriculum and college mathematics outcomes generalize to a range of colleges. The results inform college policies and practices for advising students on mathematics course-taking including enrollment in developmental courses, and high school mathematics curriculum selection.

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

There is substantial evidence that many U.S. students enter college unprepared to succeed in mathematics (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCESJ, 2006, 2008, 2009), including the fact that 25%, and perhaps as many as 40%, of all college freshmen complete at least one developmental mathematics class (typically a non-credit bearing class that should have been completed in high school) (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, Levey, 2006; NCES, 2003). The large numbers of students whose preparation for college mathematics is unsatisfactory has prompted postsecondary institutions to invest significant resources in policies and practices that support students' mathematics learning (Bettinger & Long, 2009).

The lack of student preparation has also prompted research on the role of high school mathematics curricula in preparing students for college mathematics. This literature has generally shown that high school mathematics curriculum is related to the difficulty level of the first college mathematics course a student completes but not to the difficulty of subsequent mathematics courses, whereas evidence of the relationship between curriculum and college mathematics achievement reflected in course grades is mixed (Harwell et al., 2009; Post et al., 2010; Schoen & Hirsch, 2003).

An important next step in increasing our understanding of the relationship between high school mathematics curricula and college mathematics course-taking and achievement is examining the impact of college characteristics on these relationships (We define college as a postsecondary institution offering a bachelor's degree). Research has demonstrated that college characteristics and organizational climates impact a range of student outcomes (Berger & Milem, 1999), and that there is an ongoing need to develop and refine college policies that promote better student outcomes including mathematics outcomes (Bettinger & Long, 2009; Ratcliff, Lubinescu, & Gaffney, 2001). However, none of this work has examined the impact of institutional factors on the relationship between high school mathematics curriculum and college madiematics achievement and course-taking including developmental mathematics.

Rationale for the Study and Research Question

Understanding the impact of institutional factors on the relationship between high school mathematics curriculum and college mathematics outcomes is important for two reasons. First, it informs the use of high school mathematics curricula by college advisors who recommend mathematics coursework to students. Norman (2008) found evidence that high school mathematics curriculum plays an important role in the first college mathematics course recommended to students by advisors but the basis of this importance was unclear. For example, knowing whether completion of a particular high school mathematics curriculum increases or decreases the likelihood of enrollment in a developmental mathematics course in a more or less selective institution provides guidance to advisors charged with recommending an initial college mathematics course.

Second, the results inform the selection of mathematics curricula by high schools for college bound students. …

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