Are Asian American Students Good at Math?

This is FREE sample
This text is free, available online and used for guidance and inspiration. Need a 100% unique paper? Order a custom essay.
  • Any subject
  • Within the deadline
  • Without paying in advance
Get custom essay

Eric Huang


“Asians are good at math” is not an uncommon statement that many American people make about the academic excellence of Asian American students in the area of mathematics. This seemingly “positive” belief has been rooted in the American society, especially in school, teacher and student communities, underlying that Asian students have a better genetic advantage compared to students from other ethnic groups. This, perhaps, is best exemplified in the 1987 Time magazine cover that showed six young students, sitting behind a computer and books, with the caption, “Those Asian American Whiz Kids.” These lines of stereotypical perceptions have been believed by many researchers to be a “model minority” myth which creates a false illusion that Asian American kids are perfect kids at school and that the needs of these students are often

neglected and ignored. As a result, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, Asian American girls between age 15 and 24 has the second highest rates of suicides (Heron, M. 2011). In addition, American Psychological Association also showed that Asian American students are significantly more likely than their white counterparts to have suicidal thoughts (Xu, Kochanek, Murphy, & Tejada-Vera 2010). Research has also shown that these stereotypes produce negative effects in Asian students and are holding Asian Americans back in STEM careers (WILLIAMS, MULTHAUP, & KORN 2018). The “model minority” stereotypes fail to let schools and teachers recognize the needs of Asian American students.

Research Questions

The research question that this study wants to examine are “Are Asian American students good at math? And if so, why is that the case?” This study is to examine the nurturing factors, rather than the natural ones, if any, that might contribute to the mathematics success levels of Asian American students. By believing in the latter argument, when Asian American students do perform good at math, people would just say that because they are Asian, not because they work hard. Furthermore, when Asian American students need help, they might be reluctant to seek assistance, because of shame and in a way, admitting to failure as an Asian. Thus, the examinations include (1) their poverty rate and family income compared to other ethnic/racial groups, (2) family structure, and (3) parental influence and cultural values.


This study is an analysis of the samples collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is conducted federally in the United States every year that looks into the status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups (Musu-Gillette, L., de Brey, C., McFarland, J., Hussar, W., Sonnenberg, W., and Wilkinson-Flicker, S. 2017). Other statistic data, such as the SAT scores from College Board, will also be used for this research.

Asian American Mathematics Performance

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that assesses student performance in mathematics at grades 4, 8, and 12 in both public and private schools across the nation that uses the partial mastery of fundamental skills scoring system (0 – 500 for grades 4 and 8 and from 0 – 300 for grade 12), Asian students scored the highest among all grade levels in all race and ethnicity; with a score of 260, 312, and 171 in grade 4, 8, and 12, respectively (Musu-Gillette, L., de Brey, C., McFarland, J., Hussar, W., Sonnenberg, W., and Wilkinson-Flicker, S. 2017).

Poverty Rate and Family Income of Asian Students

According the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM 2009), the poverty percentage was highest for Black (28%) and Hispanic children (27%), followed by Asian Children (14%), and White Children (9%). Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten1 and extends through high school, leading to lower than average rates of school completion (Mulligan, G.M., Hastedt, S., and McCarroll, J.C. 2012). This points out that Asian students are among the lowest racial/ethnic groups to be living in poverty. Needless to say, parents who are struggling economically simply don’t have the time to check homework, drive children to summer camp, organize museum trips, or help their kids plan for college. Working multiple jobs or inconvenient shifts makes it hard to dedicate time for family dinners, enforce a consistent bedtime, read to infants and toddlers, or invest in music lessons or sports clubs.

Furthermore, SAT scores are highly correlated with income according to The Washington Posts (Goldfarb 2014).

The result of these data shows that Asian students are less likely than other racial/ethnic groups (other than whites) to be living in poverty. Thus, this has given them more educational opportunities in and after school to seek extra tutoring in math and an advantage in becoming success in math.

Family Structure

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2013 a higher percentage of Asian children (83 percent) lived with married parents than did White children (73 percent), Pacific Islander children (60 percent), Hispanic children and children of Two of more races (57 percent each), American Indian/Alaska Native children (44 percent), and Black children (32 percent). The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1- to 2-year-olds who live with two married parents are read to, on average, 8.5 times per week. The corresponding statistic for their peers living with a single parent is 5.7 times.

Egalite (2016) found that single parents in general have less time for enriching activities, and it’s likely that dual-parent families have many other attributes that affect their children’s educational attainment, mental health, labor market performance, and family formation. Moreover, experimental evidence also documents significant negative effects of a father’s absence on children’s educational attainment and social and emotional development, leading to increases in antisocial behavior (Egalite 2016). Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau shows that children ages 12 to 17 who live with just one parent or a guardian are at a higher risk of school suspensions than their peers who live with two parents.

Family Structure Married Unmarried One Parent Guardian

According to NCES, in 2012 the percentage of Black male students who had ever been suspended from school (48.3 percent) was more than twice the percentage of Hispanic (22.6 percent), White (21.4 percent), and Asian/ Pacific Islander (11.2 percent) male students who had ever been suspended.

The result of these data suggests that Asian students are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to grow up in two-parent households and this give them a higher advantage in education over other racial/ethnic groups.

Parental Influence and Cultural Values

Many researchers attribute the academic success of Asian students to be a direct result of culture and values (Mordkowitz & Ginsburg, 1987). Historically, Asian immigrants are people who have “more or less” voluntarily move to the United States because they believe that this would lead to greater economic well-being, better overall opportunities, and/or greater political freedom (Ogbu 1987, page 321). Thus, Asian parents in particular have shown to have high expectations for their children (Louie, 2001) because they see education as a promising way to financial stability. Also. these demands and expectations for academic achievement are practices that Asian American families use for upward mobility.

Moreover, Suzuki (1977) has also taken issue with the cultural explanation and supported the idea that Asian Americans’ choice to pursue education was a direct result of their minority status. During the 1940’s, many labor unions discriminated against Asian Americans, refusing them union membership. Additionally, after World War II, technological advancements and an expanding economy required educated workers. In this particular case, Asian Americans faced limited opportunities in the area of manual labor and the other option was one that required an education. Hence, with or without cultural values, mobility through education was available.

Conclusions and Implications

Based on the data from College Board and NAEP, the answer is yes to the research question, “Are Asian American students good at math? And if so, why is that the case?” These data have suggested the reason that Asian American students have higher level of success in mathematics is not of a genetical one. Rather, it is because of many nurturing factors, such as their family’s income, structure, influence, cultural values and many more. The danger of labeling Asian students as a successful, homogenous group in math is that, say, if an Asian student come from a poverty family, their needs might not be met in school, or maybe overlooked, because of the common assumption based on their racial identify.

Or as a society, when governments and charitable organizations are allocating their resources, the common assumptions is that all Asian students are high math performers, making it easy to overlook the many Asian American students who are truly in need. Furthermore, the concept of “model minority” has historically been used to pit Asian Americans against other people of color as justification that racism doesn’t exist in America. That said, to alleviate these pressures and address the needs of some Asian students, teachers should first be aware of these myths and then raise awareness in their teaching communities and classrooms. Ideally, there should be more authentic representation of Asian American students in school communities, in film, tv, and literature, that they are not just math nerds or machines. Last but not least, schools need to redefine success; Asian students, and all students, are not just grades, awards, or scores.


  1. Anna J. Egalite. “How Family Background Influences Student Achievement.” EducationNext, Spring 2016. Retrieved 11/24/2018, https://www.educationnext.org/how-family-background-influences-student-achievement/
  2. Heron, M. (2011). Deaths: Leading causes for 2007. National Vital Statistics Reports, 59, 8.
  3. Joan C. Williams, Marina Multhaup, Rachel Korn, et al. “The Problem With ‘Asians Are Good at Science’.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 31 Jan. 2018, Retrieved 11/24/2018, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/01/asian-americans-science-math-bias/551903/
  4. Louie, V. (2001). Parents’ aspirations and investment: The role of social class in the 104 educational experiences of 1.5- and second-generation Chinese Americans. Harvard Educational Review, 71, 438 – 474.
  5. Mordkowitz, E. R. & Ginsberg, H. P. (1987). Early academic socialization of successful Asian-American college students. Quarterly newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 9, 85 – 91.
  6. Musu-Gillette, L., de Brey, C., McFarland, J., Hussar, W., Sonnenberg, W., and Wilkinson-Flicker, S. (2017). Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017 (NCES 2017-051). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC. Retrieved 11/24/2018 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.
  7. Mulligan, G.M., Hastedt, S., and McCarroll, J.C. (2012). First-Time Kindergartners in 2010–11: First Findings From the Kindergarten Rounds of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) (NCES 2012-049). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.
  8. Ogbu, J. U. (1987). Variability in minority school performance: A problem in search of an explanation. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 18(4), 312 – 334.
  9. Suzuki, R. H. (1977). Education and the socialization of Asian Americans: A revisionist analysis of the “model minority” thesis. Amerasia Journal, 4, 23-52.
  10. Zachary A. Goldfarb. “These four charts show how the SAT favors rich, educated families.” The Washington Post, Match 5, 2014. Retrieved 11/24/2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/03/05/these-four-charts-show-how-the-sat-favors-the-rich-educated-families/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.e5b3c2a08046
  11. Xu, J., Kochanek, K.D., Murphy, S. L., & Tejada-Vera, B. (2010). Deaths: Final data for 2007. National Vital Statistics Reports, 58, 10

Cite this paper

Are Asian American Students Good at Math?. (2021, Jul 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/are-asian-american-students-good-at-math/



How are Asians taught math?
In many Asian countries, math is taught using the abacus, which is a tool used for counting. In China, for example, children as young as three years old can be seen using the abacus to count.
Why are Asian students so good at math?
There are a variety of reasons why Asian students are often good at math. One reason may be that math is often a large part of Asian culture and is emphasized from a young age. Another reason may be that Asian students often have a strong work ethic and are willing to put in the extra effort to succeed.
Why do Asians perform better academically?
There are many possible explanations, but one theory is that Asians place a high value on education and work hard to achieve success in school. Additionally, some Asian families provide a lot of support and resources at home to help their children succeed.
We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Peter is on the line!

Don't settle for a cookie-cutter essay. Receive a tailored piece that meets your specific needs and requirements.

Check it out