Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Practice

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Keith W. Miller


Charles R. Granger

Helene Sherman


General chemistry (GC) plays a crucial role in the academic and career outcomes of students interested in postsecondary science, engineering and medicine. As a whole, chemistry education research literature has reported student attrition rates averaging from 25% to 35% for nearly a century. Student attrition rates can be attributed to a number of factors, including high school preparation (e.g. Tai et al. 2006), opportunity to learn (Carroll, 1989) and accumulated time and practice in a domain (e.g. Ericsson et al. 1993). The factors, in turn, are affected by mechanisms of social stratification, in particular, the social mechanism of cumulative advantage (Merton, 1968, 1988). In the context of education, cumulative advantage is evident in the form of achievement gaps, which result from the accumulation of knowledge by one group over another across K-12 education (e.g. DiPrete and Eirich, 2006). Empirical performance data was analyzed using exploratory data analysis, null hypothesis significance testing and modeling to infer whether a process of cumulative advantage was present. Results of the analyses support the hypothesis that differential high school preparation could be, at least partially responsible for GC student outcomes. The implications for practice are discussed and broad suggestions for promoting equity are described.