Assessing the effect of peer tutoring in STEM gatekeeper courses with respect to gender and ethnicity



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ABSTRACT The purpose of this quantitative non-experimental study was to address a problem in practice, which is a low rate of student success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) gatekeeper courses. This problem is compounded by a disparity in success with respect to ethnicity and gender. One potential solution to improving the success rates in STEM courses is peer tutoring. Although the effectiveness of peer tutoring has been widely analyzed, there is a paucity of literature on how peer tutoring addresses ethnicity and gender success. There are also no current studies that have been conducted on how peer tutoring affects STEM student success rates at a community college. The goal of this research project was to analyze the effect the major independent variable of attending peer tutoring had on the dependent variable of student success in two gatekeeper STEM courses at a community college in a large urban district. The independent variable, attending or not attending tutoring, was also analyzed with consideration to the influence of the independent variables of gender, ethnicity, and time spent in peer tutoring. Gender was defined dichotomously as male or female by student reported gender on admissions records. Ethnicity was examined among African American, Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic students as reported on admissions records. The duration of time spent in tutoring was examined as a gradient along four levels: (a) zero hours, (b) more than zero but less than five, (c) five to ten hours, and (d) greater than ten hours over the study period. The dependent variable for all research questions was student success, defined by the research institution as the grade of C or better. Furthermore, in the examination of gender, ethnicity, and time spent tutoring, the dependent variable was also examined along the spectrum of grades A, B, C, D, F, and withdrawal. The conceptual framework that guided the study was the Elements of Student Success Framework. The authors of this framework asserted that students who gather knowledge and competence will experience higher level of intellectual ability and greater academic success (American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education, 2011). The study population included all students enrolled in Introductory Biology (BIOL 1406) and College Algebra (MATH 1314) from the Fall semester of 2012 through the Spring semester of 2015. Data were collected from institutional data and tutoring center login computers. Data from students participating and not participating in tutoring were subjected to a chi-square contingency test with pairwise comparisons for interactions with respect to rates of success among: (a) gender, (b) ethnicity, (c) and time spent tutoring. Success will be measured by course grades (A, B, C). Chi-square contingency analysis was used for the majority of the statistical analysis. Significant tables were subject to post hoc tests using a squared standardized Pearson residual (SSPR) to determine the source of the significance and a phi (φ) coefficient evaluates to determine the magnitude of the contingency. The results of this study indicate peer tutoring does work. The findings indicate a higher rate of success is present among students who attend tutoring. Conversely, students who did not attend tutoring had a higher rate of being unsuccessful. The research results also indicate in an examination of ethnicity, the research institution has an underperforming Hispanic student population. In respect to attending peer tutoring, in biology and mathematics, African American students were positively impacted by tutoring with a higher than expected frequency of success and lower incidence of failure. Hispanic students experienced a positive result from attending mathematics peer tutoring, however, experienced a negative effect when attending biology tutoring. In the examination of gender efficacy, female students attending science tutoring were more successful than expected, had a lower frequency of being unsuccessful, and earned fewer Fs. Male biology students attending tutoring also had a lower rate of failure and withdrawal. In mathematics, there was also a statistically significant contingency among genders. Both male and female students attending math tutoring had a higher frequency of success and a lower incidence of failure. For the duration of time spent in tutoring, there was a contingent relationship among biology students, particularly an increase in success among students who attended biology and math tutoring for more than 10 hours. Ultimately, a statistically significant and reliable regression model in predicting student success could not be constructed. The results of this study have several implications to higher education practice, recommendations for continued practice, as well as recommendations for future research. One implication from the results of this study is peer tutoring is a successful method for promoting students success. However, when considering the effect tutoring had on Hispanic science students, the efficacy was confounding. One recommendation for higher education practice is to consider the work of Chang, Cerna, Han, and Saenz (2008) who noted students report receiving support from peers within their own ethnic group was important to their success. Examination of the demographics of the tutoring staff is important. Another major implication was this study addressed a gap in the literature which needs more exploration. Continued research in the area of tutoring at the community college is needed to draw more conclusions about the true effect peer tutoring has in STEM gatekeeper courses. Future research should consider longitudinal studies, replication studies, and repeated measure studies to examine the long-term effects of attending tutoring. Moreover, future research should consider both larger sample sizes as well as construct a project with less nominal data.



Higher education, STEM, Gender, Ethnicity, Tutoring