Thursday, July 26, 2007

Secret to better college performance in the sciences

College Science Success Linked To Math And Same-subject Preparation

Science Daily — Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Virginia have found that high school coursework in one of the sciences generally does not predict better college performance in other scientific disciplines. But there's one notable exception: Students with the most rigorous high school preparation in mathematics perform significantly better in college courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.

The trick is, of course, making sure students are prepared for rigorous high school mathematics. Setting the stage for success in high school mathematics is crucial to success in high school and subsequently, in college. Setting the stage begins in elementary school.

Sadler and Tai surveyed 8,474 students enrolled in introductory science courses at 63 randomly selected four-year colleges and universities across the U.S. The students reported on their high school coursework (0, 1, or 2 years) in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics; this data was then correlated with their ultimate performance in their introductory college science courses. Sadler and Tai subjected this raw data to robust modeling to correct for socioeconomic factors that may advantage some students, including race, parental education level, and mean educational level of students' home communities, as defined by ZIP code.

Not surprisingly, the controlled data indicated that high school preparation in any of the scientific disciplines -- biology, chemistry, or physics -- boosted college
performance in the same subject. Also, students with the most coursework in high school mathematics performed strikingly better in their introductory biology and chemistry courses in college; introductory college-level physics performance also benefited. Conversely, little correlation was seen between the amount of high school coursework in biology, chemistry, or physics and college performance in any of the other disciplines in this trio.

From Want to Be Good at Science? Math Is Key
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer

Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, welcomed the paper as a source of new data for making decisions on science teaching.

"The correlation with math makes sense," he said.

But Wheeler, who was not part of the research group, cautioned that a correlation isn't necessarily the same as cause and effect.

Read the Harvard Press Release here.

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