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Student enrollment in high school AP sciences and calculus: how does it correlate with STEM careers? (Robinson 2003)

Citation

Robinson, M. (2003). Student enrollment in high school AP sciences and calculus: how does it correlate with STEM careers? Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 23, 265–273.

Highlights

  • This study’s objective was to examine differences in the intended choice of college science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors between females and males enrolled in high school advanced placement (AP) science and calculus courses.
  • The study used survey data from eight high schools to examine the percentage of AP students who chose a STEM field as their intended college major. The authors compared outcomes for minority and nonminority males and females.
  • The study found that among students taking AP science or calculus classes, males were generally more likely than females to plan to choose a college major in engineering but less likely to plan to choose a college major in medicine.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to AP courses. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

The Advanced Placement (AP) Program

Features of the Intervention

The AP program was initiated in the 1955–1956 school year as a means for high school students to earn college credit for high achievement in specific subjects. In 2001, the AP program offered 35 courses in 19 subject areas, and more than 90 percent of colleges in the United States offered credit or placement for students with high AP scores. Students can take AP courses in grades 9 through 12, though the majority of AP students are in 11th or 12th grade.

Features of the Study

The authors administered a survey to 10 high schools in one school district of an unnamed state in the western United States. Eight schools returned the survey, which contained information on school enrollment as well as individual student responses indicating their planned college majors. A total of 315 students who completed the survey were enrolled in at least one AP course during the 2002–2003 school year. The authors separated the sample into minority and nonminority students who were enrolled in AP science or calculus courses and compared the percentage of females who intended to major in a STEM field to the percentage of males who intended to major in a STEM field.

Findings

  • The study found that among nonminority students taking AP classes in science or calculus, males were more likely than females to plan to choose a college major in engineering, but females were more likely to plan to choose science, math, or medicine: 28 percent of males chose engineering as their planned college major versus 11.6 percent of females. However, 24.4 percent of females chose science or math as their planned major versus 19.2 percent of males, and 20.3 percent of females chose medicine versus 9.8 percent of males.
  • Among minority students taking AP science and calculus courses, males were more likely than females to plan to choose a college major in engineering, science, and math, but not medicine: 32.3 percent of males planned to choose engineering majors versus 8.3 percent of females; 19.1 percent of males planned to choose science or math versus 13.3 percent of females; but 21.6 percent of females planned to choose medicine versus 16.1 percent of males.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors compared females’ pursuit of STEM majors with that of males. These two groups are fundamentally different, so comparing them does not provide evidence of the effect of taking AP courses on females’ pursuit of STEM majors. To provide such evidence, the authors could have compared the pursuit of STEM majors among females taking AP science and calculus courses with that of females who did not have access to AP courses, controlling for relevant characteristics such as age, race/ethnicity, and previous grades in science and math courses.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this study is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to AP courses. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

December 2014