Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Human Sciences and Education

Document Type



Black women have been making successful strides in mathematics for decades; however, they continue to be underrepresented in mathematics and other STEM fields. According to Young et al. (2017), Black girls and women perform lower in mathematics than all other racial gender groups except for Black males. Considering the stakes for Black girls and women in mathematics, this study sought to address this group's challenges early in their secondary education experiences, focusing on standardized testing.

The purpose of this explanatory-sequential mixed-methods study was to determine how different mathematics item types impacted the performance of African American girls, especially multiple-select multiple-choice (MSMC) items. The participants were 18-sixth grade African American girls and two mathematics teachers from an urban charter school in the Southeastern United States. Procedures included administering a 15-item Expressions and Equations mathematics assessment with three types of test items, including single-select multiple-choice (MC), MSMC, and short-answer constructed-response (CR) items. The assessment was followed by retrospective think-aloud student interviews of the MSMC items and supplemental teacher interviews for additional context. Five of the original students from the mathematics assessment completed the interview. Given the extenuating circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic, their teachers were able to highlight factors that may have contributed to their students’ performance.

The results and findings were multifaceted. Using Friedman’s nonparametric test, a statistically significant difference was detected for the Black girls’ performance on MSMC items compared to MC and CR items; MSMC items had the lowest performance overall. From the girls’ retrospective think-aloud interviews, four themes were uncovered: the use of Standards for Mathematical Practices (SMPs), inaccurate mathematics language, mathematical misunderstandings, and lack of testwiseness strategies. Next, regarding the pandemic school year, teachers revealed an overall lack of student participation, high student absences, technical difficulties with online learning, and the limited capacity to meet student needs either in-person or virtually. The cumulative findings supported the quantitative assessment results. Overall, the findings suggest that Black girls are currently disadvantaged, even more so during the pandemic, due to lack of instructional support, minimal to late testwiseness training, and misaligned assessment experiences.



Committee Chair

Arbuthnot, Keena