Which advanced mathematics courses influence ACT score? A state level analysis of the Iowa class of 2012

Grinstead, Mary
Major Professor
Jeffrey S. Brooks
Joanne Marshall
Committee Member
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

This study explores the relationship between specific advanced mathematics courses and college readiness (as determined by ACT score). The ACT organization has found a consistent relationship between taking a minimum core number of mathematics courses and higher ACT scores (mathematics and composite) (ACT, Inc., 2012c). However, the extent to which individual advanced mathematics courses increase ACT scores when prior achievement is controlled is unknown. The relationship between trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, advanced placement (AP) calculus, and AP statistics, and ACT composite and mathematics scores are examined using a general linear model. The sample for the study included members of the Iowa high school graduating class of 2012 who took the ACT at any point during high school.

All advanced mathematics courses included in the analysis (trigonometry, pre-calculus, calculus, AP calculus, and AP statistics) had a positive relationship with ACT mathematics score. AP calculus had the largest impact of all advanced mathematics courses on both ACT mathematics and composite scores, with enrollment in the course associated with an average increase of 1.6568 points in ACT mathematics score and an average increase of 1.1821 points in ACT composite score.

The relationship between enrollment in advanced mathematics courses and ACT scores was influenced by race/ethnicity for algebra II, calculus, and AP calculus and by gender for algebra II and calculus. In addition, female students saw less of an increase in ACT mathematics score when taking algebra II than males and less of an increase in ACT mathematics and composite scores when taking algebra II and calculus than male students. This finding hints at the cultural sensitivity of instructional strategies and materials in the mathematics classroom. To increase college readiness, students must be provided the opportunity to enroll in advanced mathematics courses, including AP courses. These opportunities for exposure to advanced mathematical concepts must exist for all students, including minority and female students. This requires increased exposure to pre-algebra concepts at the middle school grade levels and culturally sensitive instructional methods in which students relate their everyday experiences to mathematical concepts.