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Chemistry topics posing incommensurate difficulty to students with low math aptitude scores

Chemistry Education Research and Practice

May 28, 2018


The study found that students with low SAT math scores struggled most with mole concept and stoichiometry topics in assessments of introductory chemistry. Students with low SAT math scores who achieved proficiency in these topics performed similarly to students with higher math aptitude on chemistry assessments. 

These results imply that placing greater instructional emphasis and support on the mole concept and stoichiometry could help improve outcomes for students with less mathematical preparation and increase representation of these groups in the sciences. The findings suggest practical implications for designing more equitable, targeted interventions in chemistry instruction and assessment to better serve chemistry students with inequitable access to pre-college mathematics preparation. 

Additional research building on these results could further explore specific teaching methods or curricular materials focused on the mole concept and stoichiometry that help close achievement gaps for underrepresented groups in undergraduate STEM courses.

Note: Throughout this study, chemistry students scoring in the bottom quartile (or 25th percentile) of SAT math test score are referred to as "at-risk" and this test is referred to as "math aptitude." I acknowledge these phrases reveal a deficit-framed and fixed-mindset philosophy to equity in education research. The students are not at risk but rather were put at risk by an education system resulting in inequiable access to pre-college mathematics. Math aptitude implies these scores represent students' ability to do math (which can vary day-to-day and will, with learning, continue to evolve). The more accurate phrase for this measure is "math test score." 

Systemic reframing may seem like semantics but overall reveals norms related to how researchers perceive equity in student success. I will continue to develop these perspectives through my scholarship and mentorship in these topics.

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