Salehi S, Berk SA, Brunelli R, Cotner S, Creech C, Drake AG, Fagbodun S, Hall C, Hebert S, Hewlett J, James AC, Shuster M, St Juliana JR, Stovall DB, Whittington R, Zhong M, Ballen CJ. Context Matters: Social Psychological Factors That Underlie Academic Performance across Seven Institutions. CBE life sciences education. 2021 Dec;20(20). ar68. PMID: 34767460 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC8715787
To enhance equity and diversity in undergraduate biology, recent research in biology education focuses on best practices that reduce learning barriers for all students and improve academic performance. However, the majority of current research into student experiences in introductory biology takes place at large, predominantly White institutions. To foster contextual knowledge in biology education research, we harnessed data from a large research coordination network to examine the extent of academic performance gaps based on demographic status across institutional contexts and how two psychological factors, test anxiety and ethnicity stigma consciousness, may mediate performance in introductory biology. We used data from seven institutions across three institution types: 2-year community colleges, 4-year inclusive institutions (based on admissions selectivity; hereafter, inclusive), and 4-year selective institutions (hereafter, selective). In our sample, we did not observe binary gender gaps across institutional contexts, but found that performance gaps based on underrepresented minority status were evident at inclusive and selective 4-year institutions, but not at community colleges. Differences in social psychological factors and their impacts on academic performance varied substantially across institutional contexts. Our findings demonstrate that institutional context can play an important role in the mechanisms underlying performance gaps.