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Study Finds Teens’ “Math Mindsets” Influence Their Math Performance

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October 2022

A NORC study commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that teens’ attitudes toward math (math mindsets) and their own math skills differ widely according to race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. The study surveyed a nationally representative sample of teens, oversampling Black and Latino students for greater insight into their math experiences and beliefs. 

A one-size-fits-all policy won’t work. In order to increase math proficiency and STEM engagement—and open a gateway toward upward mobility for underrepresented groups—educators need to tailor math programs to accommodate the individual needs and experiences of teens from diverse backgrounds.

Findings underscore that different groups experience math differently. Lower-income Black teens viewed math class and their own abilities less positively than respondents as a whole. Latinas also reported low confidence in their math skills, despite passing math courses at a slightly higher rate than their male counterparts. While more male teens reported being good at math, more females than males reported passing math classes. In addition, teens from higher-income backgrounds reported higher math achievement and parental support. These findings suggest that programs designed to improve female, Black, and Latino participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) need to be customized to meet students’ unique needs. Researchers plan to connect study data to publicly available datasets to explore the drivers of differences in teens’ math mindsets and experiences.

Gates Teen Math Mindset Study

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