July 26, 2008

Math Ability is Gender Neutral

The latest study to address the question of whether there is any statistically significant difference between male and female mathematical abilities concludes that there isn't one.

Girls = Boys at Math
By David Malakoff, ScienceNOW Daily News

...There's no real difference between the scores of U.S. boys and girls on common math tests, according to a massive new study...

Nearly 20 years ago, a large-scale study led by psychologist Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found a "trivial" gap in math test scores between boys and girls in elementary and middle school. But it did suggest that boys were better at solving more complex problems by the time they got to high school.

Now, even that small gap has disappeared, Hyde reports in tomorrow's issue of Science. Her team sifted through scores from standardized tests taken in 2005, 2006, and 2007 by nearly 7 million students in 10 states. Overall, the researchers found "no gender difference" in scores among children in grades two through 11. 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. Hyde says that suggests that cultural and social factors, not gender alone, influence how well students perform on tests...
Anecdotally, I can't say that I'm terribly surprised. When I was but a wee student, I had terrible problems with mathematics later diagnosed as the result of an organic disorder. As a result, I needed special tutoring all through my junior high and high school years, and most of my tutors were women. That's not exactly valid sampling, I know, but because of the experience I've always suspected that assertions that women intrinsically found math more difficult than men due to some biological difference weren't legitimate.

Unfortunately, the news isn't all good:
The study's most disturbing finding, the authors say, is that neither boys nor girls get many tough math questions on state tests now required to measure a school district's progress under the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. Using a four-level rating scale, with level one being easiest, the authors said that they found no challenging level-three or -four questions on most state tests. The authors worry that means that teachers may start dropping harder math from their curriculums...
A hyphal tip to The Balloon Man on this. I just discovered his blog this morning and have been quite enjoying it.

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