Policy Brief #8 December Anatomy &

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1 Policy Research Initiative in Science Education PRSE i Science Courses Offered in Texas High Schools: A Frequency and Comparative Analysis A Research Report of the PRISE Research Group at Texas A&M University Policy Brief #8 December 2010 Introduction For people to participate fully in society, exposure to the foundational elements (i.e. customs, beliefs, and knowledge) supporting their society is required. Knowledge of is one of the supporting elements of 21 st century American society. Exposure to this element occurs for most Americans when they are students in a high school classroom. Consequently, the courses offered by a high school become an important policy issue. Today, Texas is a microcosm of 21 st century America. Issues of 21 st century education policy in America (i.e. student achievement, school vouchers, teacher pay) are at the heart of heated debate in Texas high school and legislative halls. However, regardless of any changes made to future education policy, students attending Texas schools must still acquire knowledge of to participate in today s society. The need for students to acquire knowledge is evidenced by the fact that every day, application of past scientific research becomes a part of their life. For example, 20 th century advancements in medical have led to at least two generations of Americans becoming unfamiliar with potentially fatal illnesses such as Polio, Tuberculosis, and some forms of Influenza and Pneumonia. Additionally, advances in different disciplines of the past century led to the progress of high-speed transport for both individuals (e.g., supersonic travel) and knowledge (e.g., internet), reduction in resource waste (e.g., recycling), and development of stronger and more durable consumer goods (e.g., synthetic fibers). We cannot know now what scientific advancements will define the 21 st century; however, we can know that no advancements will occur with a population lacking knowledge of. With one of the largest high school student populations in America, Texas influence on education cannot be overstated. Decisions made by Texas education policymakers concerning which courses students can choose from influence the decision-making processes of other states. For example, recently the state of Texas increased the number of course credits required to graduate from two to four. This change will force Texas schools to make changes regarding the types of courses offered to a diverse student population having varied abilities and interests in. However, these changes will also affect both producers of textbooks and curriculum who conduct business in other states. The courses listed in Table 1 are examples of courses that Texas high schools have the option to offer students. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) defines the majority of these courses. Most of the courses listed in Table 1 represent courses for which a student may receive credit for high school graduation. These courses typically have a certified teacher, are defined by state standards and meet most people s perception of a high school course. In conducting their research, Policy Research Initiative in Science Education (PRISE) researchers identified two courses offered by Texas high schools not defined by the TEA and that did not necessarily provide students with credit for graduation. The PRISE group defines these two courses as TAKS and Local course. The TAKS course is a district-defined course used by schools to prepare students for state mandated exams. This course is an elective and completion does not provide students with credit for graduation. The Local course is also a district-defined course; however, unlike the TAKS course, completion of the Local course may provide credit for graduation. Table 1 Examples of Texas high school courses Course type Prerequisites Biology and Chemistry AP Biology Biology and Chemistry AP Chemistry Chemistry and Algebra II AP Physics B Physics, Algebra I and II, Geometry Aquatic 1 high school Astronomy 1 high school Biology None Chemistry 1 high school 1 Life and 1 Physical systems GMO 1 high school IPC None Local course a Varies Biology and Chemistry Physics 1 high school Science Technology 1 high school and Algebra I TAKS b None Notes: a Defined by the local school district and may not provide credit for graduation. b Defined by the local school district and does not provide credit for graduation. 1

2 Purpose This policy brief presents evidence to answer the following questions related to courses offered in Texas high school classrooms. 1. What are the type and frequency of courses most likely offered in Texas high schools? 2. Do larger schools offer more courses than smaller schools? 3. Do high minority schools offer fewer courses than low minority schools? 4. Is there a relationship between the courses offered in a school and student achievement in? student variable aggregated at school level and associated with comparative studies of school sub-samples (See Table 2). Table 2 Split variables with categorical descriptors and sizes of associated sub-samples Split variable Sub-sample category Sub-sample size Size Small 15 Medium 17 Large 18 Minority Low 21 status High 29 Data Source Each PRISE policy brief asks and provides responses to questions concerning education in Texas high school classrooms. Data used to support the provided responses are located within the PRISE School and Teacher Databases. Each database archives data from a random sample of 50 Texas high schools and 385 teachers. Each sample is a reflection of their respective population within the state. Consequently, analysis results of data obtained from the school and teacher samples reflect the most likely condition for each population within the state. Analysis Methods Frequency and comparative analysis was used to answer the four questions posed in this policy brief. Specifically, the total teacher class responsibilities were aggregated at the school level. This aggregation allowed researchers to determine the type of courses offered at each school. Frequency analysis of courses and total classes for each course was then conducted to answer the first policy brief question. Subsequent analyses used the variables school size, minority status, and achievement in to split the sample of 50 schools into school subsamples. Creation of sub-samples allowed researchers to conduct frequency analysis within sub-samples and comparative analysis across sub-samples. Split Variable A split variable is any variable used to create sub-samples situated within a sample. Comparative analysis across subsamples determines the potential influence of the split variable on observed outcomes. Results from these analyses can influence current and future education theory. For example, the Achievement Gap theory, supported by many education researchers, uses split variables to create specific student subsamples for comparative analysis. The two student split variables most often associated with Achievement Gap studies are (1) minority and (2) socio-economic status. The second through fourth questions in this policy brief requires a split variable for data analysis. Each variable (e.g., size, minority status, and achievement in ) is a common Achievement in Unacceptable 8 Acceptable 30 Optimal 10 Size The split variable Size uses total student enrollment to categorize a school as Small, Medium, or Large. A Small school has a total student enrollment of no more than 179 students. A Medium school has a total student enrolment no less than 180 and no greater than 899 students. Finally, a Large school has a total student enrollment of at least 900 students. Minority status The split variable Minority status uses minority student enrollment proportion to categorize each school as either Low or High. A Low school has a minority student enrollment proportion less than A High school has a minority student enrollment proportion of at least Achievement in The split variable Achievement in uses the proportion of students passing a state mandated competency test (10 th grade Science TAKS test) to categorize each school as Unacceptable, Acceptable, or Optimal. As defined by the state of Texas, a school is categorized as Unacceptable when less than 45 percent of its students passed the 10 th grade TAKS test. A school is categorized as Acceptable when between 45 and 74 percent of its students passed the 10 th grade TAKS test. Finally, a school is categorized as Optimal when at least 75 percent of its students passed the 10 th grade TAKS test. Results Question 1: What Science Courses Are Texas High Schools Most Likely To Offer? PRISE researchers observed that the sample of 50 Texas high schools potentially offered 19 different courses to 2

3 students (See Table 3). Results of frequency analysis show that, on average, the sampled Texas high schools offered six different courses to students (See Appendix A). One school, number 38, offered students only one course. A review of the school sample revealed that school 38 was a 9 th grade only campus. Additionally, the only course offered at this campus was Biology. One school, number 44, offered students 16 different courses. A second review of the school sample revealed that school 44 listed 24 teachers on their school master schedule. Furthermore, of the 19 courses observed within the PRISE school sample, the only courses not offered by school 44 were Scientific Research and Design, AP Physics B, and Science. Table 3 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Texas high schools (n=50) Course type Frequency Per. (%) Cum. Per. Biology Chemistry IPC TAKS Physics Local course AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Aquatic Astronomy GMO Research and Design Science Technology AP Physics B Total 1, The 50 schools in the PRISE sample facilitated 1,213 classes spread over 19 different courses (See Table 3). The five courses most commonly offered by the schools, defined as frequency of teacher class responsibilities within schools, were Biology, Chemistry, IPC (13.6%), TAKS (10.6%), and Physics (9.7%). These courses accounted for approximately eight out of every ten (79.1%) classes taught in schools. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out of every ten classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every twelve classes. Question 2: Do Larger Schools Offer More Science Courses Than Smaller Schools? The ability to offer students a more diverse learning experience is a common claim used by individuals seeking to consolidate smaller schools into one large school. To determine the validity of this claim the PRISE Research Group used the split variable Size (Stuessy, 2009) to compare courses across school sub-samples. The Size variable allowed us to (a) determine the type and frequency of courses offered in Small, Medium, and Large schools and (b) compare types and frequencies across the three levels of school size. Small school sub-sample Small schools facilitated 111 classes spread over nine different courses, a ratio of 12 to 1 (See Table 4). The four most common courses offered by Small schools included Chemistry (26.1%), Biology (24.3%), IPC (14.4%), and Physics (14.4%). These four courses accounted for eight out of every ten (79.2%) classes facilitated by Small schools. The TAKS course accounted for almost one out every ten (9.0%) classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every 28 (3.9%) classes. Table 4 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Small Texas high schools (n=15) Course type Frequency Per. (%) Cum. Per. Chemistry Biology IPC Physics TAKS Local course AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Aquatic Astronomy GMO Research and Design Science Technology AP Physics B Total

4 Medium school sub-sample Medium schools facilitated 304 classes spread over 15 different courses, a ratio of 17 to 1 (See Table 5). The five most common courses offered by Medium schools included Biology (26.3%), Chemistry (19.7%), TAKS (15.8%), IPC (12.5%), and Physics (7.9%). These five courses accounted for eight out of every ten (79.2%) classes. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out of every six classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every 13 (7.9%) classes. Table 5 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Medium Texas high schools (n=17) Course type Frequency Per. (%) Cum. Per. Biology Chemistry TAKS IPC Physics AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Astronomy Aquatic GMO Local course Research and Design Science Technology AP Physics B Total Large school sub-sample Large schools facilitated 798 classes spread over 19 different courses, a ratio of 42 to 1 (See Table 6). The six most common courses offered by Large schools included Biology (25.8%), Chemistry (18.3%), IPC (13.9%), Physics (9.8%), TAKS (8.8%), and Local course (4.9%). These six courses accounted for eight out of every ten (81.5%) classes facilitated by Large schools. Additionally, the TAKS and Local course accounted for one out of every seven classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every 11 (9.0%) classes. Table 6 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Large Texas high schools (n=18) Course type Frequency Per. (%) Cum. Per. Biology Chemistry IPC Physics TAKS Local course AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Aquatic Astronomy Research and Design Science Technology GMO AP Physics B Total Comparison of Size sub-samples On average, Small schools offered fewer different courses than either Medium or Large schools (See Appendix A). The standard deviations presented in Appendix A show that the variation for the distribution of courses offered by Middle schools is less than both Small and Large schools. The class to course ratios for Small (12 to 1) and Medium (17 to 1) schools were dramatically lower than that calculated for Large schools (42 to 1). Additionally, four courses in Small, five courses in Medium, and six courses in Large schools accounted for a similar percentage (80%) of all classes facilitated within each school sub-sample. Additionally, Small schools facilitated the TAKS course, for which student completion of the class does not award credit for graduation, at a higher rate than either Medium or Large schools. Finally, AP courses were offered at a lower rate in the Small school sub-sample than in either the Medium or the Large school sub-samples. Question 3: Do High Minority Schools Offer Fewer Science Courses Than Low Minority Schools? Since Brown v Board of Education, Topeka (1952) the issue of equal education for students, regardless of ethnic origin, has been a major education policy issue. Like other states, Texas schools facilitate the education of a diverse ethnic origin 4

5 population. In fact, estimates are that by the year 2015 students of Hispanic origin will constitute the largest segment of the student population in Texas schools. The split variable Minority status allowed PRISE researchers to (a) determine the type and frequency of courses offered in Low and High Minority schools and (b) compare types and frequencies across the two levels of school minority status. Low minority school sub-sample Table7 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Low Minority Texas high schools (n=29) Biology Chemistry IPC TAKS Physics AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Local course Aquatic GMO Astronomy AP Physics B Research and Design Science Technology Total Low minority schools facilitated 591 classed spread over 16 different courses, for a ratio of 37 to 1 (See Table 7). The five most common courses offered by Low minority schools were Biology (26.4%), Chemistry (20.6%), IPC (12.2%), TAKS (10.5%), and Physics (10.2%). These five courses accounted for eight out of every 10 (79.9%) classes. The TAKS course accounted for one out of every ten classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every nine (11.3%) classes. High minority school sub-sample High minority schools facilitated 622 classes spread over 19 different courses, for a ratio of 33 to 1 (See Table 8). The five most common courses offered by High minority schools were Biology (25.2%), Chemistry (18.2%), IPC (15.0%), TAKS (10.6%), and Physics (9.3%). These five courses accounted for one out of every eight classes. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out every ten classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every 20 (5.5%) classes. Table 8 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by High Minority Texas high schools (n=21) Biology Chemistry IPC TAKS Physics Local course AP Chemistry Astronomy AP Biology Aquatic AP Physics A Research and Design Science Technology GMO AP Physics B Total Comparison of Minority status sub-samples On average both Low and High minority schools offered students six different high school courses (See Appendix A). The five most common courses within both school sub-samples were Biology, Chemistry, IPC, TAKS, and Physics; however, the sixth course offered by Low minority schools was most likely AP Biology compared to a Local course in High minority schools (See Tables 7 and 8). The class to course ratio was slightly lower for Low minority schools (32 to 1) than High minority schools (37 to 1). Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for similar number of classes in both school sub-sample; however, AP classes were more prevalent in Low minority schools (11.3%) than High minority schools (5.5%). 5

6 Question 4: Is there a relationship between the courses offered in a school and student achievement in? One goal of schools is to educate students as they prepare to accept the responsibility of membership in society. How schools achieve their goal is open to much debate; however, students in all schools need opportunities to test themselves academically, determining their abilities and developing goals for life after high school. The split variable Achievement in allowed PRISE to (a) determine the type and frequency of courses offered in schools with different levels of student achievement in and (2) compare type and frequency across three levels of achievement in. Unacceptable school sub-sample Unacceptable schools facilitated 230 classes spread over 17 different course, for a ratio of 14 to 1 (See Table 9). The five most common courses offered by these schools were Biology (27.4%), Chemistry (20.9%), IPC (13.5%), TAKS (12.2%), and Physics (8.7%). The five courses accounted for eight out of ten (82.7%) classes. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out of every eight classes. Finally, AP courses accounted for one out of every 16 (6.1%) classes. Table 9 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Unacceptable Texas high schools (n=8) Biology Chemistry IPC TAKS Physics AP Chemistry Local course AP Biology Astronomy Aquatic AP Physics A Research and Design Science Technology GMO AP Physics B Total Acceptable school sub-sample Acceptable schools facilitated 742 classes spread over 18 different course, for a ratio of 41 to 1 (See Table 10). The five most common course offered by Acceptable schools were Biology (24.3%), Chemistry (18.3%), IPC (15.5%), TAKS (11.8%), and Physics (8.8%). The five courses accounted for eight out of every 10 (78.7%) classes. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out of every nine classes whereas AP courses accounted for one out of every 14 classes. Table 10 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Acceptable Texas high schools (n=30) Biology Chemistry IPC TAKS Physics Local course AP Biology AP Chemistry AP Physics A Astronomy Aquatic Research and Design GMO AP Physics B Science Technology Total Optimal school sub-sample Optimal schools facilitated 223 classes spread over 14 different courses, for a ratio of 16 to 1 (See Table 11). The six most common courses offered by these schools were Biology (25.1%), Chemistry (22.0%), Physics, (13.9%), IPC (8.5%), AP Biology (6.7%), and TAKS (5.4%). These six courses accounted for eight out of every ten (81.7%) classes. Additionally, the TAKS course accounted for one out of every 15 classes whereas AP courses accounted for one out of every seven classes. 6

7 Table 11 Type and frequency of high school courses facilitated by Optimal Texas high schools (n=10) Biology Chemistry Physics IPC AP Biology TAKS Local course AP Chemistry AP Physics A Aquatic GMO Astronomy Research and Design Science Technology AP Physics B Total Comparison of Achievement in school sub-samples On average, all school sub-samples offered 6 different courses (See Appendix A). Five courses accounted for eight of every ten classes in both Unacceptable and Acceptable whereas six courses accounted for a similar percentage of classes (See Tables 9, 10, and 11). The class to course ratio was similar between Unacceptable (17 to 1) and Optimal (16 to 1) while higher in Acceptable (41 to 1) schools. The TAKS course accounted for similar number of classes in Unacceptable (one out of eight) and Acceptable (one out of nine). In contrast, The TAKS course accounted for only one out of every 15 classes in Optimal schools. Finally, both Unacceptable and Acceptable school had similar number of AP courses, one out of 16 for Unacceptable schools and one out of 14 for Acceptable schools, whereas AP courses accounted for one out of seven classes in Optimal schools. Implications for Practice and Policy Research by the PRISE Group indicates that Texas high schools typically offer 19 different courses to their students to acquire knowledge about. Of the 19 courses observed in the sampled schools, Biology, Chemistry, IPC, TAKS, and Physics courses were used most often to present students with knowledge of. These five courses accounted for eight out of every ten classes in Texas high schools. Unfortunately, one of these courses (e.g., TAKS) is designed as a means to prepare students to pass a state mandated test and not to acquire knowledge of a particular discipline. This course accounted for one out of every ten classes in the sample of Texas high schools. Additionally, analysis of the data indicates potential differences exist between school sub-samples (e.g., Size, Minority status, and Achievement in ). Small schools are least likely to offer their student population as wide a range of courses, including AP courses, when compared to Middle or Large schools. However, Medium schools offer their students a similar variety of courses and use fewer TAKS courses compared to Large schools. These results suggest that education policymakers should not assume that is not presented to students in a similar manner across schools of different sizes. Furthermore, policymakers should carefully consider the assumption that larger schools offer students more opportunities to learn. These results indicate that schools having a student population between 180 and 900 students have just as many opportunities to learn as a student in many of today s larger schools which have student populations in the thousands. Both Low and High minority schools appear to offer students similar learning opportunities. Low minority schools, however, are more likely to offer their students opportunities to acquire advanced knowledge (e.g., AP courses). In addition, High minority schools are more likely to offer students a greater variety of courses than Low minority schools. These differences are not great; however, we believe that all students of similar ability should be offered similar choices in their learning, regardless of ethnicity. The differences in school sub-samples using the split variable Achievement in were of greatest note to PRISE researchers. Specifically, Optimal schools offered their students more advanced classes (e.g., AP) and fewer test preparation classes (e.g., TAKS) than schools categorized as either Unacceptable or Acceptable. Additionally, the differences between Unacceptable and Acceptable schools, in terms of courses offered and classes facilitated, were less than observed between Acceptable and Optimal. These results lead us to conclude that education administrators at both state and school levels need reminding that teaching to a test does not ensure student learning. In fact, these results suggest that schools offering students more advanced learning opportunities are more likely to be identified as successful learning environments. For Future Study Education researchers studying successful learning environments have indicated associations with student, teacher, and school characteristics. PRISE researchers plan to conduct further analysis of the data describing the 10 Optimal schools. By studying these schools, PRISE researchers can inform both practitioners and policymakers about what works best for all schools who prepare students to participate in 21 st century American society. 7

8 Appendix A Descriptive values of courses for all sampled schools and each school sub-sample All Size Minority status Achievement in Value schools (n=50) Small (n=15) Medium (n=17) Large (n=18) Low (n=29) High (n=21) Unacceptable (n=8) Acceptable (n=30) Mean Median St. Dev Range Skewness Kurtosis Optimal (n=10) 8

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