Sustaining student interest in STEM: A study of the impact of secondary education environments (school & home) on students' inclination, achievement and continued interest in math
Ebert, Kathleen Patricia Casey
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Math students' academic and math climates provide an atmosphere for initial and sustained achievement across their high school experience. Students who were once interested in a math-related college major become at risk for completing that goal, which in turn reduces the number of students entering a STEM field and reducing the human capital for advancements in engineering and technology. Through middle school, parents stop being able to help students in math, students go through a developmental stage of fighting for autonomy, and too many previously solid math students stop out of the math pipeline. Investigating predictors that affect sustained student interest and achievement in mathematics, and pursuit of a STEM career goal, helps educators and policymakers in their pursuit of increasing the students in the math pipeline and the quantity and quality of STEM majors. This study, built on social cognitive career theory and school climate research, investigated NELS data from 8th grade to post secondary admissions, concentrating on the affects of home and school academic and math climates on 8th grade math achievement, on sustained achievement over high school, and on math-level college enrollment. Three research questions were studied using two hierarchical designs: a three-level HLM model of Individual Change within Organizations, and a two-level HGLM study investigating predictors on multinomial outcomes based on the math intensity of the desired major. Eighth-grade math achievement is affected by gender somewhat, parent expectation, home communication, a student's math disposition, as well as the math climate of the home. Similarly, math achievement across high school is affected by the same with the math climate of the home not having a sustained affect. Additional school-level math climate predictors have marginal affects on math achievement growth. Finally, adding to STEM research, college enrollment was studied using a unique classification system involving math-intensity. In sum, a change in several student-level predictors: gender, algebra, math disposition and one school-level predictor marginally, could increase the expected odds of being in the most math-intense college major (STEM). These findings could be useful in helping educators and policy-makers increase math interest, achievement, and college enrollments in math-related fields.