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Boys, Girls, and Math

An study appearing in Science (no free access) apparently finds “There’s no real difference between the scores of U.S. boys and girls on common math tests.” (this link is to Science’s reporting about the article). Some interesting points include “Overall, the researchers found “no gender difference” in scores among children in grades two through 11.” and data that “suggests that cultural and social factors, not gender alone, influence how well students perform on tests.” On the SAT, however, boys out performed girls. The study argues that is because more girls take the test which obscures the results.

The part of the report that may be of most use to law and policy folks concerns No Child Left Behind:

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, because “more teachers are gearing their instruction to the test.”

As a side note, the first thing I thought of was the Barbie “I hate math” moment of more than fifteen years ago. A quick search of Barbie and math brought up possibly 466 news article that linked that event to the study (and the few I checked were not all AP wire coverage). In addition, Lawrence Summers’ statements about intrinsic aptitude pop up quite a bit in coverage of the study. So would the study have made such a splash without that history? As for Barbie, maybe someone will point out that its image is not as stable as Mattel might wish (whether that should matter is a different question depending on the legal context). And Mr. Summers, well this link seems to be his speech about the aptitude issue. Draw your own conclusions.