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U.S. Boys Continue to Outperform Girls in Advanced Math and Physics

U.S. Boys Continue to Outperform Girls in Advanced Math and Physics

The U.S. along with 59 other countries participated in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)—an international assessment that compares student performance in math and science, and TIMSS Advanced—an assessment that compares how students are performing in advanced math and physics.

The results, released today by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), reveal findings about the achievement levels of U.S. fourth-, eighth- and twelfth-grade students. While the U.S. has participated in every administration of TIMSS since 1995, this is only the second time the U.S. has participated in the TIMSS Advanced administration.

In both math and science, U.S. fourth and eighth graders’ scores either improved or did not change.

Experts say the results indicate long-term student improvement since the assessments began to be administered in the 1990s.

Also consistent, experts say, is the fact that U.S. students are being annually out-performed by a handful of predominantly Asian education systems.

Singapore, Japan, China and Russia’s education systems consistently performed better than U.S. students in both grade levels and in both subjects. Overall, Singapore students significantly outperformed their international peers.

On a domestic level, the TIMSS results reveal interesting findings about the U.S. gender gap in STEM.

"Males in twelfth grade scored 46 points higher than females in physics and 30 points higher than females in advanced mathematics—even though there was no measurable difference between males and females in eighth-grade mathematics, and a five-point difference between males and females in eighth-grade science,” said NCES in a statement.

In other words, while the STEM gender gap appears to be closing in younger grades, males are continuing to significantly outperform their female peers in advanced math, specifically in their final year before heading off to college.

Many experts have tried to speculate as to why males not only perform better in advanced math and science high school classes, but also dominate college majors and subsequent careers later on in life.

Some research has pointed to a lack of confidence dissuading girls from trying while other research indicates a lack of inclusive culture for females is to blame.

For those interested in viewing the full results, they are available here. State level data is available for only one state—Florida. Interestingly enough, average scores for Florida students were down this year when compared to 2011.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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