Analysis of Academic Performance of Students Taking Physiology Reveals an Achievement Gap Relative to Student GPA

Wu & Anderson / FASEB Journal / May 2022

The authors previously reported that the use of small stakes assessments in an undergraduate/graduate physiology class (PHSL3061/5061, Principles of Physiology) contributed to improved average test scores for physiology and biomedical engineering majors and reduced the number of non-passing physiology majors (EB 2021). Their overall hypothesis is that using small stakes assessments could improve outcomes for all students.

In this current study, they examined physiology majors from 2018-2021 by race, gender, first generation status, class (sophomore, junior, senior), and indicated financial need. A typical physiology major taking PHSL3061/5061 tended to be white (60%), female (67%), non-first generation student (75%), and in their senior year (60%).

When small stakes assessments were given, the number of students achieving below 70% was reduced as previously reported. However, those students that achieved a final score below 70% tended to be black, indigenous, person of color (BIPOC) (60%), female (80%), first generation student (75%), in their senior year (60%), and indicated some financial need (60%). Moreover, when term GPAs versus final scores were plotted, this group tended to have a term GPA between 3.0-3.5/4.0, revealing an achievement gap in PHSL3061 relative to their predicted performance based on GPA.

They also compared academic performance (final score and term GPA at the end of the course) by race, gender, first generation, and class. The most significant differences in final score and term GPA were found between first generation and non-first generation students.

Overall, our data revealed a group of students that are not achieving scores relative to their GPAs. They believe that these analyses can identify achievement gaps sooner. Taken together, the use of small stakes assessments can still lead to improved outcomes for physiology students. Further analyses of physiology students by category could reveal other potential areas where there are achievement gaps.