Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gender differences in today's math tests

A recent study by University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde shows, quoting an article in Science Now:

"no gender difference" in [standardized math test] scores among children in grades two through 11. compared with Hyde's previous study, nearly 20 years ago, which found:

a trivial gap in math test scores between boys and girls in elementary and middle school.

Hyde's study notes that:

Among students with the highest test scores... 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.

The study's most disturbing finding, which hasn't received anything like the media attention that its gender comparison has garnered:

[N]either 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, because "more teachers are gearing their instruction to the test."


Another factor that may distort today's test results is the new practice of not granting full credit to unexplained answers. The better you are at math, the more annoying it is to keep explaining how you solved easy questions.

I doubt that my brother, an accomplished mathematician with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, would have cooperated at all: he would then have gotten only half credit for each problem, and, I’m guessing, would have scored way below average.

To the extent that these tests are used to determine admission to accelerated math programs, all the worse for the math buffs.

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