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K12 Teachers May Favor Males When Judging Math Proficiency

Teachers May Favor Males When Judging Math Proficiency

A new study from New York University and University of Illinois researchers published in AERA Open used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) to delve further into the trend of males outperforming females in math.

The research indicates that negative teacher perceptions towards girls throughout their K-12 education is a major factor in the production of the math gender gap between girls and boys. This phenomenon, the researchers speculate, could be a major reason why women go on to be dramatically underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers later on.

"Even when further adjusting for prior and current achievement scores, teachers continue to rate girls’ math proficiency lower than similarly achieving and behaving boys from Grade 1 onward,” the study says.

"Importantly, this underrating of girls . . . is among boys and girls who score equally well on past and current tests and have similar learning behaviors, and occurs throughout the distribution, suggesting a consistent tendency to underestimate girls’ math proficiency among both high- and low-achieving students.”

The researchers conclude that more research should be done on "the causes of early gender gaps in math, including the role that teacher expectations and students’ learning behaviors and problem-solving approaches may play in their development.”

Specifically, the researchers’ analysis of the data found that the gender gap is most predominant at the top of the distribution. In other words, girls are most underrepresented in the group of high achievers.

Using the ECLS-K data from 1999 and 2011, the researchers found that "girls represent fewer than one third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. Also in both ECLS-K data sets, the underrepresentation of girls at the top worsens, with girls representing fewer than one third of students above the 90th percentile and only one fifth of those above the 99th percentile by Grade 3 in the older cohort and Grade 2 in the newer cohort.”

"Clearly, this gender gap at the top of the distribution develops before students enter kindergarten, worsens through elementary school, and has not improved over the last decade.”

The researchers believe that stereotypes (as evidenced through teacher perceptions) and gendered patterns of mathematical problem solving (the tendency of girls to use familiar, teacher-given strategies that are counterproductive in complex math) are the main reasons behind this gap.

This isn’t the first time that research has found that variables leading to a lack of confidence are to blame for the woman’s inferior performance in math.

In 2008, a study of PISA results found that in countries with a more gender-equal culture, the gender gap in math scores declined. 

More recently, in July of this year, a study found that increasing women’s confidence in STEM could result in 75 percent more women entering the STEM pipeline.

Read the full study here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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