Girls = boys in math scores

Girls have caught up with boys in math scores, conclude a team of Wisconsin and Berkeley researchers in an article in the July 25 issue of Science. Girls now are as likely as boys to take high-level math classes — and it shows. Not only are scores the same through high school, women now earn 48 percent of bachelor’s degrees in math.

Among students with the highest test scores, the team did find that white boys outnumbered white girls by about two to one. Among Asians, however, that result was nearly reversed. (Wisconsin’s Janet) Hyde says that suggests that cultural and social factors, not gender alone, influence how well students perform on tests.

Researchers had difficult measuring ability to solve complex problems because many state tests asked few or no complex questions.

“The tests we are currently using are really not asking students to perform the types of tasks they are likely to encounter in the workforce,” (Berkeley’s Marcia) Linn said. The lack of complex problems on assessment tests “doesn’t motivate teachers or textbook developers to create material that challenges students, and it sends the wrong message to schools with regard to what should be emphasized in math courses.”

While males continue to outscore females on the math SAT, that’s skewed by the fact that a larger percentage of female students take the test.

Female students have stronger reading and writing skills, equal math skills and higher college aspirations. The males aren’t keeping up. At Why Boys Fail, Richard Whitmire’s new blog, he wonders if the shift toward word problems has helped girls and made math harder for boys.

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  1. Sister Howitzer says:

    I am unable to access the entire article. Maybe someone can tell me whether the scores have equalized because the girls’ scores went up, or the boys’ went down.

  2. Andromeda says:

    I saw that “women now earn 48% of bachelor’s degrees in math” in the Boston Globe this morning too, and…when I was a math major, I was told that math has long had surprising amounts of gender parity. (It’s the other technical fields that are very heavily slanted.) I don’t have the historical data to back that up, but it makes me wonder if that’s the sort of statistic that some journalist uncritically accepted, without having the historical data either.

    Hey, I have google! This suggests that it’s been pretty close for the last twenty years, anyway. There are places with striking gender imbalances, but they’re kind of predictable (eg women have slightly outnumbered men in bio for a while, but good luck finding a female physicist or CS major — very much the same as the ratios I saw as an undergrad at Harvey Mudd).

  3. The verbal factor arises not just in the word problems that dominate so many of these state tests, but also in the common practice of not granting full credit to unexplained answers. Faced with the annoyance having to explain answers to easy questions (given the extremely low bar that many of these state tests set), perhaps girls are more cooperative than boys?

    I don’t my brother, an accomplished mathematician with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, would have cooperated at all: he would then have gotten only half credit for each problem, and, I’m guessing, would have scored way below average.

  4. Andromeda,

    My recollection from the 70s is the same as yours. Women steered clear of Physics and Engineering, but not Math, Chemistry or Biology. The female Chemistry majors all seemed to be premed.

  5. Charles R. Williams says:

    A very high percentage of math majors are interested in secondary education. A high percentage of students interested in secondary education are women.

  6. How is math major being defined? My understanding has always been that there is a great difference between majoring in math (or any other academic subject) in the College of Education and in the College of Arts and Sciences. When I was in college, in the late 60s, Secondary education majors were required to take exactly HALF of the credits in their academic major and minor than were required of students in Arts and Sciences.

  7. The male variance in math ability is greater than female variance, even if the mean values are close. There are more male dummies and more male geniuses than female of either.

    Top levels of math and math-requiring fields will continue to be dominated by males, for excellent reasons having to do with hormonal influences on brain development and function.

    The UWM researcher who submitted this study apparently cares more about appearances than realities.