On-Track for STEM Careers: Access to Rigorous and Relevant STEM Coursework in Florida’s High Schools

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

This empirical, three-year, longitudinal research project explores the impact of accelerated academic programs (i.e., Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Dual Enrollment and honors what about AICE?) on students’ high school and early postsecondary STEM course taking. Our project is guided by two primary research questions: 1) Who enrolls in accelerated academic programs? What are student and school factors that influence enrollment in different accelerated and non-accelerated curricular programs? 2) Do accelerated academic programs increase students’ STEM coursetaking in high school and during their first year of postsecondary school (Grade 13)? Do some programs increase STEM coursetaking more than others? Do these programs reduce gaps in STEM coursetaking among historically underrepresented students and their peers?

This research takes advantage of the extraordinary student tracking database maintained by the Florida Department of Education’s K-20 Data Warehouse. We have 8th through 12th Grade high school coursetaking and achievement data for Grade 12 cohorts from 2002-2006. Our mixed-methods research project also engages high school administrators, teachers, and students through fieldwork in four urban school districts to determine how student agency, past academic experiences and future plans, as well as teacher and school personnel factors, affect student enrollment in challenging mathematics and science coursework.


All sixty-seven school districts in Florida are included in this project. In addition, fieldwork was conducted in nine high-producing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high schools in four of Florida’s major urban centers during the 2009-2010 school year.

Research Design: 

To address Research Question 1, the researchers are constructing ordinary least squares and logistic regression models to obtain a comparison sample using propensity score analysis. Analysis of the qualitative data collected during fieldwork (interviews, focus groups, and archival data) also informs this research question. To address Research Question 2, this longitudinal project employs hierarchical linear models to predict the likelihood of accelerated participation in rigorous programs considering predictors (e.g., highest mathematics and highest science course taken, mathematics and science coursetaking milestones for grades 9-12, and STEM gatekeeper coursetaking) that are based on student and school characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, prior achievement, urbanicity, school size, student composition). Answering Research Question 2 also involves a survival analysis of mathematics and science coursetaking progression from Grade 9 though Grade 12, using secondary analysis of Florida Department of Education K-20 Data Warehouse data.


Characteristics of 2005-2006 seniors enrolled in accelerated academic courses (Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Dual Enrollment and honors) participants in Florida:

  • Students eligible for the Federal Lunch Program were underrepresented in accelerated programs.
  • Female students were more likely to enroll in accelerated programs than male students. Female enrollment in Advanced Placement and honors classes at Grade 12 was also higher than males, accounting for the majority of the students enrolled in these programs.
  • African-American and Hispanic students were underrepresented in both the International Baccalaureate and Dual Enrollment programs. In AP and honors, Hispanic students were represented commensurate with their representation in the general population, and Black students were underrepresented to a lesser extent.

Descriptive analyses suggest that prevalence of accelerated coursetaking in Florida high schools varies according to several factors:

  • Accelerated coursetaking was most prevalent at large and mid-size city and suburban schools compared to small metropolitan suburbs, towns, and rural areas.
  • Schools with the lowest proportion of accelerated coursetaking included:
    • Schools enrolling a majority of African-American students.
    • Schools enrolling few Hispanic students.
    • Schools with a high proportion of students enrolled in free/reduced lunch programs.
    • Small schools.

The factors that influence students’ decisions to participate in accelerated academic programs include (based on qualitative research in schools):

  • District level policies/practices such as the push to increase participation in the AP program.
  • Previous participation in accelerated programs.
  • Advice and/or recommendations from parents, teachers, and counselors.
  • Students’ own interests (i.e., students most frequently discussed the opportunity to boost one’s weighted GPA and earn college credit as their own reasons for participating in accelerated academic programs).
Publications & Presentations: 

Book Chapters

“College and Career Ready in a Flat World” in Becky Smerdon and Kathryn Borman (eds). Schools for a Complex World. Forthcoming. B. Smerdon, A. Evan & K. Borman.

“Pathways in America’s High Schools” in Becky Smerdon and Kathryn Borman (eds). Schools for a Complex World. Forthcoming, B. Smerdon, A. Evan, K. Borman & A. Nguema.

“Educational Policy in Practice: Implementing the ‘AP for All’ Movement in Two Florida High Schools” in Becky Smerdon and Kathryn Borman (eds). Schools for a Complex World. Forthcoming. A. Spalding, A. Eden & R. Heppner.

Conference Papers

“On-Track for STEM Careers: Access to Rigorous and Relevant STEM Coursework in Florida’s High Schools,” American Educational Research Association. April 2010, Denver, CO. K. Borman, R. Lee, A. Spalding, B. Smerdon & W. Tyson.

“Using FL State Data to Identify High Performing Schools for Qualitative Case Studies,” American Anthropological Association. December 2009, Philadelphia, PA. R. Lee, R. Lanehart & T. Boydston.

“ Dual Enrollment vs. Advanced Placement: Perceptual Differences about Accelerated Courses in Florida High Schools,” American Anthropological Association. December
2009, Philadelphia, PA. A. Nguema Ndong.

“Accelerated Academic Programs in Florida High Schools: Factors Influencing Student Participation,” Florida Educational Research Association. November 2009, Orlando, FL. A. Spalding, A. Nguema Ndong, R. Heppner & K. Borman.

“An Analysis of Dual Enrollment Participation Rates in Florida High Schools,” Florida Educational Research Association. November 2009, Orlando, FL. B. Fay, A. Nguema Ndong, W. Tyson & K. Borman.

Other Products: 

Qualitative research instruments (interviews and focus group interviews) were created for this project. Posters have been presented at the annual REESE PI meetings.