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Rigorous math classes in high school lead students to more college math and STEM courses

Pullias Center’s Tatiana Melguizo partnered with UCLA’s LAERI on new report.

By Pullias Center Published on

High school students interested in benefitting from the earning gains of pursuing a STEM career should have access to rigorous calculus classes in 12th grade, according to a new report by the Los Angeles Education Research Institute at UCLA (LAERI).

In the second and final report in the series, Twelfth Grade Math and College Success, LAERI-affiliated researchers build on their work in Twelfth Grade Math and College Access and examine the impact of taking a math course in twelfth grade on Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) students' science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) course taking and college success.

This second report looks more closely at college performance among LAUSD graduates who attended a California community college or California State University, Northridge.

Taken together these findings illustrate the need to support students who are interested in STEM by providing opportunities for students to take rigorous calculus courses in high school.

The authors found that:

  • Compared to academically-similar students who did not take math in twelfth grade, students who took math in twelfth grade completed more college-level math credits.
  • Compared to academically-similar students who took Statistics in twelfth grade, students who took Calculus in twelfth grade completed more college-level math credits.

“The results of the study underscore the critical importance of taking math in the senior year of high school for students who are interested in pursuing a career in STEM,” stated USC Professor Tatiana Melguizo, one of the authors of the report. “It also shows that specifically taking calculus as opposed to statistics results in taking a larger number of college-level math credits.”

The study was funded by the Oakland-based nonprofit College Futures Foundation and conducted by researchers affiliated with LAERI, which has collaborated with L.A. Unified for more than 10 years to produce research that district decision-makers and educators use to improve educational quality and equity in Los Angeles.

The research team included Tatiana Melguizo, professor at the USC Rossier School of Education and the Pullias Center for Higher Education, as well as Leonard Wainstein, assistant professor of statistics at Reed College; Carrie Miller, LAERI’s associate director; Meredith Phillips, associate professor of public policy and sociology at UCLA and faculty director of LAERI; and Kyo Yamashiro, an assistant professor of education at Loyola Marymount University who co-founded LAERI with Phillips and served as the founding executive director.

Read the report to learn more about the impact of twelfth grade math course taking in L.A. Unified on students' postsecondary academic success.

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