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School Composition and Context Factors That Moderate and Predict 10th-Grade Science Proficiency

by Mark C. Hogrebe & William F. Tate IV - 2010

Background: Performance in high school science is a critical indicator of science literacy and regional competitiveness. Factors that influence science proficiency have been studied using national databases, but these do not answer all questions about variable relationships at the state level. School context factors and opportunities to learn science may vary geographically across states and interact with demographic composition variables.

Purpose: The purpose was to examine relationships between 10th-grade science proficiency and school context factors related to school environment, courses, and teachers. The moderating or interaction effects were examined for the school demographic composition variables of free/reduced lunch and minority percentages on variable relationships with science proficiency scores.

Population and Unit of Analysis: Data for this study consisted of all Missouri high schools in 2002 with a 10th-grade class size of at least 25 students (N = 423). Unit of analysis was the single school.

Research Design: This was a secondary data analysis study that used variables collected annually from all schools in Missouri. Multiple regression was used to examine relationships and moderating effects of school demographic composition. Predictor variables were grouped into three categories for school context: school environment, course related, and teacher related. The outcome variable was 10th-grade scientific attainment as measured by the Missouri state proficiency test in science.

Results: School context variables of higher dropout and mobility rates signaled greater risk factors, especially when moderated by free/reduced-price lunch percentage (FRL pct) and minority status. When FRL pct and Minority pct were higher, lower science proficiency scores were associated with elevated dropout rates. Similarly, greater mobility was related to lower science scores when school FRL pct was high. Some school-level variables interacted positively with FRL pct and minority status, which resulted in higher science scores. Schools with more FRL and minority students achieved higher science proficiency scores when they had a greater percentage of courses taught by highly qualified teachers and more teachers were regularly certified. Higher science scores were associated with greater percentages of master’s degree teachers in schools with a larger percentage of minority students. A surprising finding revealed a geographic influence and demonstrates why testing for interactions can lead to better understanding of the data.

Conclusions: The findings are consistent with the status attainment literature and the theoretical arguments associated with geography and educational attainment in that socioeconomic status and minority status are important predictive factors in Missouri. As an extension of previous research, this study demonstrates that the school composition variables of FRL pct and Minority pct are significantly related to science proficiency in the 10th grade. Not only are they predictive of science proficiency scores, but they also interact with each other and moderate the relationships between school context variables and 10th-grade science scores. This study suggests that teacher quality in high-poverty majority-minority school settings remains an important policy target for reform and improvement.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 4, 2010, p. 1096-1136
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15661, Date Accessed: 8/11/2020 3:41:31 AM

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About the Author
  • Mark Hogrebe
    Washington University in St. Louis
    MARK C. HOGREBE’s position is in Institutional Research, Department of Education, Washington University in St. Louis. He directs the CISTL St. Louis Regional Database Project that compiles data and research about K–12 scientific attainment and other educational indicators. He also serves as the research/statistical analyst for the NSF Math and Science Partnership at Washington University in St. Louis. His interests include research and evaluation methodologies in applied settings and using GIS to give geospatial perspective to educational data. His most recent publication is “Examining Regional Scientific Attainment and School-Teacher Resources Using GIS” (with L. Kyei-Blankson & L. Zou), Education and Urban Society (2008).
  • William Tate IV
    Washington University in St. Louis
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM F. TATE IV is the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Science at Washington University in St. Louis and director of the Center for the Study of Regional Competitiveness in Science and Technology and CISTL. Tate’s interdisciplinary scholarship concentrates on two main areas: mathematics, science, engineering, and technology attainment, specifically, in metropolitan America, and the social determinates of education and health disparities. Two recent publications include: (1) “Geography of Opportunity”: Poverty, Place, and Educational Outcomes, Educational Researcher (2008); and (2) “The Political Economy of Teacher Quality in School Mathematics: African American Males, Opportunity Structures, Politics, and Method,” American Behavioral Scientist (2008).
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