Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy and Leadership

First Advisor

Birren, Jill

Second Advisor

van den Kieboom, Leigh

Third Advisor

Chandrasekhar, Meera


The position of the United States in the global STEM economy is being challenged by other countries. There is national concern that the STEM pipeline be strengthened to ensure more students pursue STEM degrees and join the STEM workforce. Although it is important to inspire youth in STEM programs, it is also important to provide all students access to the STEM gatekeeper courses of calculus, chemistry, and physics. This study determined if taking algebra in middle school and Physics First impacted AP Physics enrollments in a suburban high school. Taking physics in ninth grade, or Physics First, is part of a course sequence known as PCB, or physics-chemistry-biology. This study focused on Physics First without a PCB sequence. Eight years of AP Physics enrollment data was used in this quantitative observational study to look for associations between middle school algebra, Physics First, and AP Physics enrollment, particularly for women. Pearson’s Chi-square tests for independence were used to determine if the strength of the association between two variables was statistically significant. Effect size was also determined. Findings showed a significant association between middle school algebra and AP Physics enrollment during the first four years of data but not the last four years of data. There was a significant association between Physics First and AP Physics enrollment with a medium to large effect size. Taking Physics First benefitted women as increasing numbers enrolled in AP Physics over the eight-year period. Schools should examine math and science course pathways to ensure that all students have access to STEM gatekeeper courses in preparation for STEM degrees and careers. It is important for students to be algebra ready by eighth grade to access calculus in high school. Physics First provides an initial physics experience with access to AP Physics as a capstone course earning college credit. The conceptual understanding of physics and greater understanding of science and engineering practices developed in Physics First will help students be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

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