Understanding the Role of Contextual Effects in STEM Pursuit and Persistence: A Synthesis Approach

This synthesis project will inform educators and policymakers about the cumulative evidence that exists on the impacts of a variety of contextual factors on a multitude of STEM outcomes (e.g., math and science achievement, self-efficacy, future goals). This project will provide new evidence regarding the significance of youth contexts on STEM outcomes that will assist policy makers and educators in evaluating productive educational environments.

Award Number: 
1417601
Funding Period: 
Monday, September 1, 2014 to Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Full Description: 

The percentage of U.S. high school graduates pursuing STEM majors has declined over the last three decades with the largest decline among the highest achieving students. American youth are ill-prepared relative to their international counterparts - U.S. 15 year olds rank 16 out of 26 developed countries in science literacy and 19 out of 26 developed counties in mathematical literacy. There is much research in the areas of how students learn STEM in formal settings, but there is little knowledge of the impact of youth contexts on STEM. Youth contexts are social groups in the lives of young people such as neighborhoods, communities, schools, classrooms or friends. Understanding the role of youth contexts is crucial to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn STEM content. This project will synthesize the research literature on youth context and assess whether and how a range of these contexts shape K-12 STEM outcomes and engagement - predictors critical for later educational and occupational attainment. The researchers will conduct two large-scale meta-analyses - one based on the quantitative research body and one based on the qualitative research body - in order to draw conclusions about which contextual factors relate to which STEM outcomes across the span of extant research. In doing so, this synthesis project will inform educators and policymakers about the cumulative evidence that exists on the impacts of a variety of contextual factors on a multitude of STEM outcomes (e.g., math and science achievement, self-efficacy, future goals). This project will provide new evidence regarding the significance of youth contexts on STEM outcomes that will assist policy makers and educators in evaluating productive educational environments.

Syntheses of the research in youth contexts and their impact in STEM will address the following four research questions: (1) How do contextual factors impact STEM learning?; (2) How do these factors vary by the specific type of context?; (3) How do these factors vary by gender and race within each context?; and, (4) Are these factors influenced by the methodological features of the research? The review will include electronic searches of educational, economics, sociology, psychology, and general science databases covering the years 1980-2014. Results will be narrowed by youth context area, and separate analysis will be conducted on gender and race/ethnicity differences in STEM outcomes. The data for the full review will be evaluated by a common set of guidelines to be published along with the findings, enabling the conclusions of the review to be transparent and allowing for detailed information to be easily accessible. The review will discuss each study that meets the inclusion requirements for a valid research design. With this methodology, this study will be the first to provide a clearinghouse of rigorous research related to contextual factors of STEM outcomes.

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