September 2010

Racial Demographics and Education Trends

Achievement Trends

SAT GraphThe NCES report paints a mixed picture for academic achievement trends in the various ethnic groups in the U.S. Although the population that takes college entrance exams has become more diverse, the NCES report found that on both the SAT and ACT exams, American Indian/Alaska, Black and Hispanic students continue to score below their Asian and Caucasian cohorts. In fact, the report suggests that fewer American Indian/Alaska, Black and Hispanic students enroll in high school upper-level math classes.

On a positive note, however, the number of U.S. high school students taking Advanced Placement courses doubled in a nine-year period (from 0.7 million students in 1999 to 1.5 million students in 2008), with Black and Hispanic students making up the largest percentage increase.

Still, the study found that, at the national level, American Indian/Alaska, Black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind their Asian and Caucasian cohorts on assessment tools such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam. But, these students scored higher than the international average on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

These data suggest that, even though some of our national trends are going in the right direction, we need to work on shortening the achievement gaps between our students.

Making an Impact

So, what can we do? The time may be ripe for this question. The U.S. Department of Education and many state departments of education have begun the process of addressing problems seen in schools with low-achieving students. It is understood widely that science and mathematics education will be important to the future of any nation in the changing global economy. Making sure that our students continue to perform at or above the international average should be our priority. And, with this priority comes the question of how to reach the changing demographics of our students and positively impact their achievements.

It may be a good time for American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members to shift some of our priorities and embrace K-12 education as part of our mission. To jumpstart this effort, the ASBMB Educational and Professional Development and Minority Affairs Committees have planned a special-interest session for the 2011 ASBMB annual meeting, titled “Fostering Interactions between College/University Scientists and High School Students and Teachers” (see page 26 for more information). The session will allow higher education faculty and students to converse with junior high school and high school teachers about student engagement and learning.

After all, K-12 grade students are the scientists of tomorrow. So, let’s get back to school and to education.


1. Aud, S., Fox, M., and KewalRamani, A. (2010).Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, D.C.

Regina Stevens-Truss ( is an associate professor of chemistry at Kalamazoo College and a member of the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee.


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