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Friday, 25 July 2008 21:04

U.S. study concludes girls just as good as boys in math

Considered the most comprehensive study on math education in the United States, girls were found to be equal to boys in the grades from second to eleventh with respect to standardized mathematics tests.

The result of the study is published on Thursday, July 25, 2008 in the journal Science. The article title is “Gender Similarities Characterize Math Performance.”

The study was led by American psychologist Janet S. Hyde, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). Her colleagues are Sara M. Lindberg, also from the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Marcia C. Linn, from Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology at the University of California at Berkeley, and Amy B. Ellis and Caroline C. Williams, both from the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin.

The Hyde team analyzed mathematics questions from standardized tests required by the national “No Child Left Behind Law of 2001.” The analysis was performed from tests taken in 2002. The test scores came from over seven million children in ten U.S. states.

The researchers found that the scores of boys and girls were the same in all grade levels from second to eleventh.

They researchers made sixty-six different assessments. They calculated the difference between scores in standardized units between males and females. In twenty-one of the assessments, boys did slightly better than girls; in thirty-six assessments, girls did slightly better than boys; and in nine assessments, they were equal.

Hyde declares, "But when you average them all, you essentially get no difference.” [MercuryNews.com: “What math gender gap? Study finds girls, boys equally adept"]

She adds, “Girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests." [CNN: “Study: Girls equal to boys in math skills’]

The study found that women get 48% of the mathematics degrees in the United States. However, it also showed that the number of physics and engineering degrees are still the domain of men.

However, in secondary and primary school, girls are equal with boys in mathematics. The researchers state that the equality of the sexes is due to girls taking more advanced mathematics courses such as calculus (which, by the way, is required for college degrees in physics, engineering, and many other sciences).

Please read page two to find out how certain groups of boys and girls did in the United States, and some interesting comments and remarks from Dr. Hyde.

Not surprising, the study also found that teachers and parents still consider boys to be better at math than girls. And, girls still believe themselves to be inferior to boys in math and, thus, often avoid math classes in school.

Hyde remarks, "Stereotypes are very, very resistant to change, but as a scientist I have to challenge them with data.” [MercuryOnline.com]

The study also found that boys of Caucasian-American background (white) did better than white girls. However, Asian-American girls did better than Asian-American boys. The statistics could not make statements for boys and girls of Hispanic-American, African-American, and American-Indian descent.

However, Hyde and her colleagues are concerned about one facet of the standardized tests they looked at in their study. In most of the states they gathered data from, and from most grade levels, the standardized tests did not include problem-solving questions.

According to the CNN article, such complex problem-solving questions are needed to gain the ability, “… to succeed in high levels of science and math. If tests don't assess these reasoning skills, they may not be taught, putting American students at a disadvantage to students in other countries with more challenging tests.”

Hyde comments, "It keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology.” [CNN]

Hyde concludes, "If you plan on being a full-time homemaker or elementary school teacher, you may think you don't need math. But if you're thinking about a serious career - and want to make sure it is lucrative or prestigious - you'll take more math." [MercuryNews.com]

Additional information on the similarities and perceived differences between boys and girls is found in the American Psychological Association (APA) Online article “Men and women found more similar than portrayed in popular media, according to research on gender differences .”

[Author’s note: All girls and boys in the world, and their parents, should realize that to get a good job in this world, and to have a productive career, in the sciences, engineering, business, and other high-technology fields, mathematics is one of the most important subjects to take in secondary school, primary school, and college.

Mathematics forms the foundation (the basis) for all such career fields. You can’t do geology, computer science, physics, psychology, architecture, marketing, accounting, nursing, video gaming, marine biology, archaeology, agriculture, teaching, astronomy, and many, many other fields, without some math skills.

In fact, some degree of mathematics is needed in just about all jobs out there in today’s world. So, the more math classes a student takes in school, the better.]

Learn more about math at “Teach R Kids Math” and “Math.com.”

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