ITP | Math vs. Reading: Charting the Changes in Youths’ Academic Inclinations During K–12

February 2, 2024, Noon-1:30 pm Central Time

259 Educational Sciences and Zoom

Sirui Wan

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Psychology, UW–Madison

Sirui Wan

People’s educational and career choices, such as choosing a field of study in postsecondary education and deciding on a career path, predict their future income, health, and well-being. The roots of these life decisions often stem from beliefs and behaviors formed in the early stages of life, such as students’ academic inclinations during their K-12 years. It is common for students to start favoring one subject over others at school. Despite their fundamental impact on students’ life outcomes, our understanding of how and why these inclinations develop is limited. In this talk, I will present a set of studies that chart the changes in students’ academic inclinations throughout their K-12 education. My research indicates a growing divergence in students’ identities as a “math person” or a “reading person” as they progress through school. During childhood and adolescence, students increasingly compare their abilities and interests in math and reading. The percentage of students who identify themselves as a “reading person” increases over the K-12 period, while the percentage of students who identify themselves as a “math person” by the end of high school remains similar to that in the early grades. Ability grouping in math classes is found to play a role in shaping these trends. Educational implications will be discussed.

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