Girls are just as good as boys in math, study finds

Girls tackle basic and complex mathematical problems as well as boys do, a departure from the findings of a 1990 study that found significant gender differences, a UC Berkeley professor and her research team from the University of Wisconsin concluded.

Armed with a National Science Foundation grant, the team crunched the standardized test scores of 7 million students to see how the boys’ and girls’ averages measured up. They also compared the percentages of boys and girls who scored at the high end of the spectrum to see if there were more boys than girls at the top. There weren’t.

The reason? Well, it’s not earth-shattering. Researchers think it’s because girls are finally taking the same number of advanced math courses as boys.

Notably, the researchers had to look beyond the standardized tests required by NCLB to determine how well children of each gender solved complex problems. They combed 10 state exams for examples of highly challenging, real-world math — and found zilch, according to this news release:

What this suggests, said Hyde, is that if teachers are gearing instruction toward states’ NCLB assessments, abilities in complex problem solving may drop in the future in both boys and girls, leaving them ill-prepared for careers in math, science and engineering.

“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,” (UC Berkeley Professor 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.”

The study will be published in tomorrow’s edition of Science, along with some less encouraging observations about gender equity in the sciences. Here is a link to Science’s release.

Do you think that, even in 2008, some parents and teachers believe that girls aren’t quite as good at mathematical problem-solving? Is that a myth that still needs to be shattered?

image from EDU018’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I always thought the statistical differences were real. And that I was a bit of a freak because I was good at math.

    I finally learned in high school to hide my math aptitude – after ruining any chance I had of a second date with a boy in our church youth group, by not hiding it. Most of the girls I went to school with were better/smarter about those sorts of social expectations.

  • Debora

    What a great time to be a girl.

    I graduated high school in 1977. I was sent to the vice principal’s office in high school for making the following comment as a typing teacher watched as I memorized a page of text, then typed it while looking at my hands -“You’re never going to make a good secretary she yelled.” – “I don’t want to be a secretary, I want to have one.” I snapped back. That was enough to almost get me kicked out of high school, at least temporarily, for insubordination.

    In high school in the 70s in Fremont, California, girls were given four “valid” options: Secretary, Nurse, Teacher or Mother.

    My strong and capable daughter is being told that she has a good mind, strong spirit and determined perseverance. This information is given to her at home, school, Saturday language school, through friends, family, and neighbors. To use Nextset’s common term: She’s becoming INDOCTRINATED.

    I don’t know how we ever came to the conclusion that girls were not as good in math – probably the same faulty conclusion as race creates a bell curve, boys are poor communicators, Muslims are terrorists – all wrong of course – but we act surprised to find out these are falsehoods.

  • John

    No John didn’t say this, but you should read it anyway.

    The media’s continuing to perpetrate the myth that females are oppressed and males are the oppressor. For example, they continue to spout these disproven assertions:
    — women earn 79 cents on the dollar compared with men. In fact, for the same work, women earn the same as men.
    — women are underrepresented in high-level positions because of sexism. In fact, as documented in recent well-reviewed books such as Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox, women’s not being in high-office comes much more from choosing to have a less work-centric lifestyle.
    — the schools shortchange girls relative to boys. (the long-debunked Reviving Ophelia canard.)
    — men abuse women–in fact, studies show that 30 to 52% of severe domestic violence is perpetrated by women.

    Thus, the subconsciously or consciously held feeling among educators, policymakers, and the public, is that we need to do more for females than for males, ignoring such statistics that boys are achieving far worse in school than are girls, much more likely to abuse drugs, commit suicide, and drop out of high school, far less likely to graduate from college, much more likely, as young adults, to be sleeping late unemployed on their parents’ sofas.

    Check out: http://www.martynemko.com/about-marty