iSTEM: Impacts of Inclusive STEM High Schools on Student Outcomes

Teacher And Pupils In diverse High School Science Class

SRI Education leads a first-of-its-kind longitudinal study on the schools’ effectiveness in Texas, North Carolina and Ohio. 

How do inclusive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) high schools influence students’ future education and career choices? To find out, SRI Education and George Washington University are conducting the  iSTEM research project under funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The iSTEM study is the first large-scale controlled longitudinal study of the impacts of inclusive STEM high schools in the United States. 

Inclusive STEM high schools can be defined as open-enrollment schools with a strong focus on preparing underrepresented students (e.g., African Americans, Hispanics, females and students from low-income families) for advanced STEM education studies and careers. Previous research shows that many students, especially among those from underrepresented groups, do not complete the right courses in high school to be prepared for a STEM major in college. 

The iSTEM study focuses on the extent to which inclusive STEM high schools contribute to improved academic outcomes, interests in STEM careers and expectations for post-secondary study. Through implementation research, the influence of elements of the STEM schools’ design and other contextual factors, such as state policies, are being examined.  

SRI has committed to provide resources for research beyond NSF funding to further enhance iSTEM activities. 

Study Design 

SRI researchers identified and recruited 39 inclusive STEM-focused high schools and 22 comprehensive (or traditional) high schools serving similar student populations but without a school-wide STEM focus in North Carolina and Texas. An additional comparison school sample of 13 small schools of choice with a focus other than STEM is being used to help disentangle the effects of a STEM-focused program from those of small school size and school choice. 

The study uses a quasi-experimental design to investigate the effects of attending an inclusive STEM high school and compares outcomes for students in these schools with those of their counterparts attending other types of schools in the same states. The study includes all students in the 9th or 12th grade in the inclusive STEM high schools and comparable students in samples of same-state comparison schools. Data are collected longitudinally using student records and by surveying students at different points in their academic careers. The study follows the 12th grade students after graduation into postsecondary study or  the workforce. 

Impacts on student achievement are analyzed separately for each state. Data on the elements of STEM schools are collected through teacher and administrator surveys and interviews. State STEM school history and policy data are collected through document analysis and interviews. 

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1118993. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. 

Read more from SRI