The popular belief that girls are not as good at mathematics as boys are does not stand up to the facts, according to a large American study. Researchers report in the magazine Science this week that official data for more than seven million students show that on average there is no difference between the math scores of girls and boys in state exams mandated by the No Child Left Behind policy.
Some critics argue, however, that even when average performance is equal, gender discrepancies may still exist at the highest levels of mathematical ability. The research team could find no evidence of that, nor of differences between the performance of boys and girls on questions requiring complex problem solving. They did, however, find a disturbing lack of questions that tested that ability — a fact that does not augur well for either girls’ or boys’ careers in math, science and engineering.
SAT scores, from the standardised tests taken by all college-bound students, have shown better performance by boys. But the researchers in the current study believe that is explained by “sampling artifact”. For one thing, it is not a random sample of all students, only those going on to college. Also, more girls than boys take the test now, because more girls are going to college, and so there is a wider distribution of female talent involved which could bring down the average score. In any case, the research team think their evidence is strong enough to lay the “girls can’t do math” myth. ~ Newswise, July 24