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When It Comes to Learning Math, do Girls = Boys?

The journal Science, released the largest study of its kind on the subject of girls and math. After studying 7 million students over 20 years, it concluded that in grades 2 through 11, “girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests.” Wonderful news, right?!

Not exactly.

It turns out that while girls are doing better on the math portion of standardized tests, these standardized tests themselves don’t *really* test for anything other than the most basic math concepts. Put another way, girls and boys are equal in that they do about the same on standardized tests that don’t really test math very well! This vital portion of the research was completely missed by the mainstream press, and it came in the form of an unanswered question:

Does the gender gap remain in complex problem-solving?

No one knows because, again, our standardized tests do not test beyond the most basic math concepts, which according to the authors means “these [complex problem-solving] skills may be neglected in instruction, putting American students at a disadvantage relative to those in other countries where tests and curricula emphasize more challenging content.”


In any event, it’s a no brainer that if you remove the cultural and instructional barriers to math, girls = boys (sorry Lawrence Summers!) Actually, I believe that regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, or proclivity for math, most students can make significant improvements in math if the instruction is engaging, relevant, effective, and individualized.

By the way, given how critical it is to later academic success, I wonder why K – 1 math performance was excluded from the study. Was it unattainable, meaningless, or did it skew the results (i.e., girls do less well)?