Black Girl Magic: Factors associated with Access to Advanced Math in Middle and High School for Black Girls

Angelique B. Williams

Major Professor: Adam Winsler, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Ellen Rowe, Leah Adams

Online Location, #2084
April 20, 2020, 01:30 PM to 03:30 AM


Although STEM education is critical, the U.S. lags behind most developed countries in terms of math and science achievement internationally. Also, there are stark racial and gender disparities that exist within the U.S school-aged population concerning STEM participation. Currently, although young Black girls have high levels of interest in STEM in elementary school, by secondary school, they are one of the least represented groups in advanced math and science classrooms (Young, Ero-Tolliver, Young, & Ford, 2017). The current study, guided by Expectancy Value theory (Atkinson, 1957), Critical Race theory (Fox, Prilleltensky, & Austin, 2009), and Intersectionality theory (Crenshaw, 1991), examined the timing and trajectories of Black girls’ participation in Algebra 1 throughout middle and high school.

Participants were Black female students (N = 5,776) from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP; Winsler et al., 2008), in which low-income children attending various types of pre-K programs were longitudinally followed through high school in Miami, Florida. In addition to descriptive questions about the timing of taking and passing Algebra 1 classes, I also examined numerous longitudinal predictors of when girls took Algebra 1. Predictors included demographic variables (poverty, disability, gifted, and ELL status), school readiness skills (cognitive, language, motor, social, and behavioral skills at age four), and prior academic performance (3rd and 5th grade GPA, standardized test scores, retention, and suspension).

 Descriptive, Chi-square, ANOVA, and multivariate ordinal and logistic regression analyses revealed that of the 1,393 students who completed 12th grade, 2.3% were in the most advanced track (took Algebra 1 and Geometry in middle school), 26% took Algebra 1 (only) in middle school, 67% took Algebra 1 in high school, and the remaining 4.7% never took Algebra 1. Early parent-and preschool-teacher-reports of fewer behavior problems at age four were related to earlier Algebra 1 participation many years later. Standardized math and reading test scores in 3rd grade, and 5th grade GPA were all positively related to earlier participation in Algebra 1.

These results are encouraging but also evidence of there being room for improvement and collaboration between communities, schools, and families. Excitingly, some Black girls are participating in Algebra 1 during middle school. However, the majority of girls didn’t participate in Algebra 1 until high school which limits their later opportunities in STEM. Relations observed between early school readiness assessments and FCAT scores in G3 and later math track participation point to the importance of early identification of high-achieving Black girls and the need for guidance counselors to encourage them to take advanced math courses in middle school.