Do I belong in my math class? The importance of perceived racial/ethnic context and math course sequence

Elsevier, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Volume 67, October 2021
Morales-Chicas J., Graham S.
As careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) continue to grow, so has attention to Algebra 1 enrollment timing that serves as a critical predictor of STEM success. The present study adds to the literature by examining if Algebra 1 enrollment timing from 8th to 9th grade is related to sense of belonging in math, and whether this association changes as a function of the students’ perceived school and math race/ethnic context. To capture the dynamic nature of these contexts, we examined racial/ethnic incongruence, or the difference in the perceived number of same-race/ethnic peers in math class and the school of Black, White, Latino, and Asian students. Mixed effects linear modeling analyses were conducted on a sample of 2,938 participants (46% males; 54% females) who attended 26 racially/ethnically diverse middle schools and who transitioned to 142 public high schools in California. The results showed that enrolling and successfully passing 8th Algebra was protective for sense of belonging but this association depended on students’ race/ethnicity and the racial/ethnic incongruence between the math class and school context. Findings have important implications for math education, teaching, and policy.