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Study Highlights Striking Racial and Gender Gaps in High School STEM

While male and female students are earning high school math and science credits at similar rates, boys are still significantly more likely to take engineering and technology classes and to consider pursuing postsecondary STEM majors, according to the National Center for Education Statistics' latest update of the 2009 High School Transcript Studyreleased late last month. 

The results also reveal stark differences in how high school students of different races are earning STEM credits. Asian students outperform other students in nearly all areas—they're more likely to take tougher science and math classes, earn more STEM credits, and consider majoring in STEM after high school. Black and Hispanic students remain much less likely than their white counterparts to take upper-level STEM courses.

The NCES researchers have been tracking 20,000 students who were in 9th grade in 2009, and this recent update looked at where they were in 2013. My colleague Sarah Sparks wrote about the major findings on graduation rates here

Below are some of the more notable STEM-related findings from the report.


Boys and girls were about equally as likely to go as far as calculus in high school math—about 15 percent of each took the course.

Nearly 45 percent of Asians took calculus—a significantly larger percentage than any other race. About 18 percent of white students, 10 percent of Hispanic students, and 6 percent of black students took the course. 

AP and IB Science

A similar percentage of males and females took an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class as their highest high school science course (15 percent and 13 percent, respectively). 

Four in 10 Asian students took AP or IB courses. Sixteen percent of white students, 10 percent of Hispanic students, and 8 percent of black students took such courses. (For more on racial and gender differences in AP, see this story on computer science.)

Total STEM Credits Earned 

Males and females tended to take the same amount of total STEM credits (7.6 on average). Girls earned slightly more credits on average than boys in science and math. But in computer science and engineering, boys earned more credits. 

Asian students averaged 8.5 STEM credits, while other races averaged between 7.2 and 7.8. 

Credits Earned in Technology-Related Courses 

While about 21 percent of males earned credit in engineering and technology, just 8 percent of females did the same. The percentages are closer in computer and information sciences—49 percent of boys earn credits in those areas and 45 percent of girls do.

White students were more likely than students of any other race to earn credits in either engineering or computer and information sciences.

Considering a STEM Major 

More than twice as many male students were considering a science, technology, engineering, or math major as female students (33 percent vs. 14 percent). 

Nearly 42 percent of Asian students were considering majoring in STEM. A quarter of white students, 20 percent of Hispanic students, and 15 percent of black students were considering such majors.

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