Charting a New Course: Investigating Barriers on the Calculus Pathway to STEM
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December 2021

Charting a New Course: Investigating Barriers on the Calculus Pathway to STEM

Pamela Burdman
Melodie Baker
Francesca Henderson

College calculus courses deserve their reputation as weed-out courses, but research points to numerous ways that math departments can transform calculus instruction to cultivate a more diverse generation of math and science professionals in California and beyond.

Charting a New Course: Investigating Barriers on the Calculus Pathway to STEM, a new report from Just Equations and the California Education Learning Lab, confirms that traditional approaches to calculus are partly responsible for the large proportions of women and students from minoritized backgrounds who are diverted on the path to science and technology.

The report examines several factors that interfere with students’ progress in calculus sequences and into STEM majors. It also highlights numerous opportunities for postsecondary institutions to tackle these barriers. Many of those strategies require addressing exclusionary assumptions and practices that ration access to high-quality instruction and advanced courses based on stereotypes about who can and cannot do math. They include:

  • Revising placement practices and pathways to calculus.
  • Redesigning calculus course content and on-ramps to STEM.
  • Improving classroom instruction and support.
  • Deepening professional learning.

What stands out is that successful efforts shift the focus from measuring students’ readiness to designing calculus experiences that better serve students, so that prior math preparation doesn’t dictate their destinies.

The California Education Learning Lab is releasing Charting a New Course in conjunction with a request for proposals, Seeding Strategies to Close the Calculus Equity Gap, which will award 25 or more grants of up to $100,000 for STEM departments at public higher education institutions to address equity gaps in calculus success.

Read a blog on the report here.

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