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The Role of Calculus in the Transition from High School to College Mathematics

In 2014, approximately 750,000 United States high school students were enrolled in a calculus class, three times the number of U.S. students who took their first calculus class in college. High school calculus enrollments are still growing at roughly 6% per year, with increasing pressure on the most advantaged students to take calculus ever earlier. Over 100,000 now take a College Board AP Calculus exam by the end of grade 11. High school calculus teachers find themselves under increasing pressure from parents and administrators to admit into their classes students they know are not adequately prepared. The study of Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus (NSF DRL 0910240) found that a quarter million of the students who study calculus in high school will retake mainstream Calculus I at the post-secondary level, and 40% of these quarter million will fail to get the A or B that signals they are prepared to continue in mathematics. There is very little known about the remaining half million. At the same time, half of all nation's high schools do not even offer calculus, and students from underrepresented groups, even when they are in a high school that offers calculus, are often discouraged from enrolling in this course. The result is that, if they aspire to a mathematically intensive major such as engineering or a physical science, then they will find themselves in competition against students with a much richer preparation.

This workshop project will bring together researchers and experts in the issue of the transition from high school to college mathematics to: (1) survey the state of knowledge related to this situation; (2) identify the most pressing and promising questions for exploration; and (3) lay out an agenda for future work. The project will bring together researchers who have worked to understand different aspects of these issues, including both those who have worked under the aegis of the College Board and those who have worked independently of it. The project will produce a greater understanding of how the rush to calculus affects the pathways that students ultimately take toward fields that depend on mathematics, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)fields. It also will help to illuminate the obstacles faced by students from disadvantaged high schools. White papers, together with a summary of the recommendations for further study that come out of the workshop, will be published and disseminated by the Mathematical Association of America. The outcomes of the workshop will provide future directions for investigation in terms of (a) general transition across academic levels and (b) approaches that enhance the national need of broadening participation in STEM areas.

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    The Role of Calculus in the Transition from High School to College Mathematics

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