Evidence suggests the following benchmarks are important markers of future success along the STEM continuum. Due to greater availability of research and assessment in mathematics, more evidence was found for benchmarks in this area than in science. These benchmarks informed the STEM in Minnesota cradle-to-career project committee in selecting key measures.

8th-grade math proficiency

Challenging high school coursework requires a solid foundation in basic skills. Students who end middle school behind in math and science are ill-prepared to engage in more advanced STEM learning as they progress through school. On the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Minnesota 8th graders scored above the U.S. national average and international TIMSS scale average in both math and science overall (1).

Math achievement scores in middle school and high school are a better predictor of pursuing a college major in math or the biological sciences than is gender. Awareness of similarities in girls' and boys' abilities and performance can counter societal messages that may discourage girls from STEM (2).

8th-grade algebra

In Minnesota, students are required to complete an algebra I credit by the end of 8th grade. Algebra is considered a gateway to more advanced math and science courses. Earlier completion of algebra, geometry, and algebra II affords more opportunity for higher-level high school math coursework including trigonometry, precalculus, and calculus. Students lacking foundational math skills will not succeed in algebra, however. They need to build skills in elementary and middle school that will enable them to succeed in algebra when they reach 8th grade.

8th-grade interest in STEM

Exciting opportunities in STEM in elementary and middle school can build lifelong interest in these areas. By the end of middle school, students should have been given meaningful experiences that inspire, build connections, and help them see themselves in STEM. Research suggests that students expressing interest in STEM in 8th grade can be up to three times more likely to later pursue STEM degrees (3).

This is not just an issue for students struggling to meet academic benchmarks. Many highly proficient students, including minorities and women, ultimately gravitate away from STEM professions. Building and sustaining interest in STEM is important for all students, including those struggling with academic proficiency and those who are highly proficient. Out-of-school-time (OST) and out-of-class experiences, as well as advanced coursework, can provide important opportunities for inspiration in STEM. They can also provide a means for girls and minority students underrepresented in STEM to connect with meaningful experiences, mentors, and role models (3).

Additionally, students generally form ideas about their career path in secondary school. Supporting interest in STEM involves strong classroom instruction as well as experiences outside the classroom that provide real-world applications, exposure to potential careers, and opportunities to experience connections across STEM disciplines (4).

Qualified middle school math and science teachers

Education research widely supports the importance of teachers in students' academic achievement. Teachers' critical role holds true in STEM areas as well. Effective teaching in STEM requires deep subject-matter content knowledge coupled with mastery of skills for teaching STEM subjects (3). Research indicates that shoring up K-12 teachers is a high leverage point for increasing the number of students who pursue and attain STEM degrees (5). Even before the high school level, K-8 teachers should be equipped with knowledge of STEM content and best practices to help them promote STEM literacy, recognize talent, and prepare the future workforce for employment in these areas (6,7). On the 2011 TIMSS mathematics assessment, higher achievement was related to teachers' experience, confidence in their math teaching, and career satisfaction (8).

References:

1. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Highlights from TIMSS 2011: Mathematics and science achievement of U.S. fourth- and eighth-grade students in an international context. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2013009rev

2. Hyde, J. S., & Linn, M. C. (2006). Gender similarities in mathematics and science. Science, 314, 599–600.

3. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010). Report to the President, Prepare and inspire: K-12 education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for America's future. Retrieved from White House website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/pcast-stemed-report.pdf

4. Thomasian, J. (2011). Building a science, technology, engineering, and math education agenda: An update of state actions. Retrieved from National Governors Association website: http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1112STEMGUIDE.PDF

5. Business-Higher Education Forum. (2010). Increasing the number of STEM graduates: Insights from the U.S. STEM education and modeling project. Retrieved from http://www.bhef.com/sites/bhef.drupalgardens.com/files/report_2010_increasing_the_number_of_stem_grads.pdf

6. MN P-20 Education Partnership. (2011). STEM Achievement Gap Strategic Planning Workgroup final report. Retrieved from http://mnp20.org/working_groups/documents/December152011WorkingGroupReport-STEMAchievementGapFinal3Report.pdf

7. National Science Foundation, National Science Board. (2010). Preparing the next generation of STEM innovators: Identifying and developing our nation's human capital (NSB-10-33). Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2010/nsb1033.pdf

8. Mullis, I. V. S., Martin, M. O., Foy, P., & Arora, A. (2012). TIMSS 2011 international results in mathematics. Retrieved from TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center website: http://timssandpirls.bc.edu/timss2011/international-results-mathematics.html

Additional sources:

National Science Board. (2012). Science and engineering indicators 2012 (NSB 12-01). Retrieved from National Science Foundation website: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/pdf/seind12.pdf

Ross, T., Kena, G., Rathbun, A., KewalRamani, A., Zhang, J., Kristapovich, P., & Manning, E. (2012). Higher education: Gaps in access and persistence study (NCES No. 2012-046). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012046.pdf