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The Math-Chemistry Connection: Using Data to Make Student-Centered Decisions
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By Angela Schroeder - South Belton Middle School

This article is a summary of research conducted at a Texas high school to show the relationship between academic performance in Algebra I and Chemistry, including a comparison of Chemistry and concurrent math course success. This research was conducted to encourage parents, counselors, and educators to consider IPC placement for students struggling in Algebra I, in order to prevent high failure rates and perpetuate dropout rates for this population.

High school is the place where students begin making choices regarding their academic futures. Secondary students enjoy perusing course catalogues and making decisions about which classes will fill their schedules during the upcoming year. It’s supposed to be exciting! Some classes will be based on their interests, although graduation requirements must be met and core classes take precedence. Therefore, we as educators are committed to helping secondary students build schedules that include their interests, meet graduation requirements, and consider their academic readiness. These three parameters create conditions for success, and the most difficult parameter to determine is academic readiness. This is where student data plays a key role.

The extant protocol to enroll exiting ninth grade students into Chemistry after successful completion of Biology may not translate to Chemistry success causing students to fall behind in credit requirements. Math achievement is a better indicator of chemistry readiness. Students that have failing averages or do not meet standards on the Algebra I STAAR are typically enrolled in MMA, a math course that offers review of Algebra I concepts during the fall semester, and introduces Geometry concepts in the spring semester. For these students it may be more appropriate for them to take Integrated Physics and Chemistry (IPC) during their tenth grade year. IPC can serve as a bridge course, similar to MMA, or provide a stand-alone science course for students not seeking a STEM endorsement in fulfillment of their graduation requirements. While Algebra I proficiency should be sufficient for most chemical quantitative analysis problems, many students struggle to translate algorithmic functions to situational chemistry word problems. In order, to streamline enrollment for students of all skill levels, a recalibration of the prerequisites for Chemistry should be considered in a manner that takes into account their Algebra I performance and subsequent math course.

The participants in this study were 128 tenth grade students currently enrolled in grade level Chemistry at a 6A high school in Texas. The classes reflect the overall demographic makeup of the district which is 51% Hispanic, 42% Anglo, and 6% African American. The study sample consisted of 62 males and 66 females, and any student classified other than a sophomore was excluded from the study. The classes included were taught by the same Chemistry teacher, insuring that the students were receiving the same curriculum and level of instruction; however, the math courses and teachers varied. Concurrent math courses included, 41 students enrolled in MMA, 78 enrolled in Geometry, and only 9 students were enrolled in Algebra II.

For veteran teachers that are familiar with the cross-curricular connection between math and chemistry the results were not surprising. The Algebra I STAAR scores and Chemistry spring averages had a strong, positive correlation, which was statistically significant, rs = .633, N = 120, p < .001. Additionally, Algebra I final course averages and the combined Chemistry averages were compared and reported similar results; rs = .732, N = 125, p < .001, also a strong, positive correlation that is statistically significant. The standardized assessments were compared using the same statistical model and also found to be significant at rs = .640, N = 112, p < .001.  In addition, Chemistry averages were significantly greater for students enrolled in Geometry (Mdn = 88.0) than for students enrolled in MMA (Mdn = 76.8), U = 2765, p < .001, r = .46.

 



Recent overhauls of graduation requirements for a Texas high school diploma have allowed students some flexibility in fulfilling the four math credits and four science credits. Research shows that students who feel successful in their high school courses are more likely to finish high school and continue their education whether through vocational or collegiate programs. Consequently, effective student placement may predict future success, and encourage students to complete their secondary courses. Since, the data in this study reveal that low Algebra I performance and MMA enrollment are indicators that these students will be more likely to struggle with the heavily quantitative Chemistry objectives, IPC will more effectively meet their academic needs. The goal of secondary education is to prepare students for either the workforce, vocational studies, or post-secondary courses. More importantly, it is to create conditions for successful completion of high school, and reduce the effect of the number one reason students drop out of high school which is that they were failing too many classes (Gould & Weller, 2015).

Reference: Gould, S. & Weller, C. (Oct. 10, 2015). The most common reasons students drop out of school are heartbreaking. Tech Insider. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/most-common-reasons-students-drop-out-of-high-school-2015-10.

The Science Teachers Association of Texas

 

 

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