Scale-Up of Selective STEM Specialty Schools: Efficacy Study

This study addresses the question: Does gaining admission to a selective STEM specialty school improve students' academic success on the SAT, SAT II, and Advanced Placement exams? Other portions of the investigation follow additional student outcomes, including: participation and success in STEM competitions; STEM publications; intentions for postsecondary STEM education and STEM careers; and initial postsecondary STEM education. This study seeks to inform considerations of the cost/benefit of directing resources to support such schools.

Full Description: 

The desire to better empower high-ability STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) students has contributed in the last two decades to a jump in the creation of selective STEM specialty high schools. These schools devote all of their attention to a student body comprised only of the most talented students, ones who are most likely to be able to learn the most demanding STEM content, reach their STEM learning potential, and pursue postsecondary STEM study and careers. However, there are mixed views on the role that selective STEM specialty schools play in achieving their mission. While commenting on what is known regarding education in the STEM disciplines, a recent National Research Council report entitled "Successful K-12 STEM Education" notes that "there are no systematic data that show whether the highly capable students who attend those schools would have been just as likely to pursue a STEM major or related career or make significant contributions to technology or science if they had attended another type of school." To address the research gap, this impact study addresses the question: Does gaining admission to a selective STEM specialty school improve students' academic success on the SAT, SAT II (Math Level 2), and Advanced Placement exams (Calculus AB, Chemistry, and Physics B)? Other portions of the investigation follow additional student outcomes, including: participation and success in STEM competitions; STEM publications; National Merit scholarships; intentions for postsecondary STEM education and STEM careers; and initial postsecondary STEM education.

This study is based on the most rigorous possible design for the focal topic: a true experimental investigation of outcomes for students from many selective STEM specialty schools. The study is being accomplished through random assignment of equivalent treatment and control groups, and based on enough students to yield statistical power that can produce the most clear causal result possible. Researchers are recruiting all qualified students who apply for admission to 20 selective STEM specialty schools among the approximately 100 such schools currently in the United States. For the class entering in fall 2013, study schools are revising their routine selection process to one of assigning students for acceptance (treatment condition) or not (control condition) through random assignment of qualified applicants. Researchers, then, are following treatment students via their STEM schools and also intensively tracking all control students wherever they continue their secondary education. The study also investigates relative cost-effectiveness for educating high-achieving students in selective STEM schools versus educating them at other schools.

Since there is an acute and growing U.S. shortage of STEM professionals and technicians, it is imperative for the nation's education system to ensure that talented STEM students are reaching their maximum potential and pursuing postsecondary STEM degree programs and careers. As one strategy increasingly being used to address this need is to educate talented STEM students in selective STEM specialty schools, this study is informing considerations of the cost/benefit of directing resources to support such schools.

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