An investigation of the impact of science course sequencing on student performance in high school science and math
High school students in the United States for the past century have typically taken science courses in a sequence of biology followed by chemistry and concluding with physics. An alternative sequence, typically referred to as "physics first" inverts the traditional sequence by having students begin with physics and end with biology. Proponents of physics first cite advances in biological sciences that have dramatically changed the nature of high school biology and the potential benefit to student learning in math that would accompany taking an algebra-based physics course in the early years of high school to support changing the sequence. Using a quasi-experimental, quantitative research design, the purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of science course sequencing on student achievement in math and science at a school district that offered both course sequences. The Texas state end-of-course exams in biology, chemistry, physics, algebra I and geometry were used as the instruments measuring student achievement in math and science at the end of each academic year. Various statistical models were used to analyze these achievement data. The conclusion was, for students in this study, the sequence in which students took biology, chemistry, and physics had little or no impact on performance on the end-of-course assessments in each of these courses. Additionally there was only a minimal effect found with respect to math performance, leading to the conclusion that neither the traditional or "physics first" science course sequence presented an advantage for student achievement in math or science.