Disparities in advanced math and science skills among different racial backgrounds emerge early on in a student’s development, a new study has found.
The study, conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Irvine and University of Texas Health Science Center, found that 16% of Asian students displayed advanced math skills during kindergarten.
The percentage dropped slightly for white students at 13% while both Black and Hispanic students were at 4%.
The findings, first published in Sage Journals on Nov. 8, come from an analysis of a national sample of around 11,000 U.S. elementary school students, covering the start of kindergarten until the end of fifth grade.
The disparities remained consistent throughout elementary years, with 22% of Asian students displaying advanced math skills by fifth grade. In the same grade, 13% of white students, 3% of Hispanic students and 2% of Black students registered the same skills.
The disparities are similarly reflected in advanced science skills.
Co-author Paul Morgan, a Harry & Marion Eberly Faculty Fellow and professor at Penn State, shared their findings via a research brief on The Conversation.
Morgan explained that the discrepancies were influenced mainly by the family’s socioeconomic status as well as the student’s kindergarten education.
The researcher pointed out that such disparities limit scientific innovation and economic competitiveness in the country.
According to Morgan, students who exhibit advanced math skills at an early age are often those who eventually become scientists or inventors, as they are the most likely to pursue doctoral degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The researchers hope that by highlighting how racial and ethnic disparities affect advanced math and science skills at an early age, they can bring attention to the needs of students of color and get better support for them. The report concludes by urging schools and agencies to start supporting students of color in the elementary years in a bid to boost representation in STEM.
It is worth noting that the study presents Asian Americans as a homogenous racial group despite consisting of over 20 different ethnic subgroups.
An earlier University at Buffalo (UB) research pointed out that there are segments in the group that also need attention when it comes to representation in STEM courses.
Hyunmyung Jo, co-author of the 2021 UB study, explained to UBNow: “The model minority stereotype — that Asian immigrants in the United States achieved upward social mobility through their own efforts without institutional support — renders particular Asian American subgroups invisible victims of racism and excludes them from the discussion on issues of justice and equality.”
In their study, the researchers found that Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan students were the most likely to enroll in highly selective universities, while Filipino, Vietnamese and Thai students lag behind and exhibit lower on-average scores in math courses than other Asian American students.
Study co-author Lois Weis also pointed out: “While it is the case that Asian Americans are overrepresented in STEM fields relative to other non-white groups, the question remains: Who are these Asian Americans who are overrepresented?”
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