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Report Card -
Math & Science
enactment of Title IX 25 years ago removed many barriers to women
and girls in the non-traditional fields of math and science, areas
critical to their success in an increasingly technological world.
However, disparities based on gender still exist in achievement
and participation rates in these disciplines. Gender differences
in math and science start small and grow as students reach secondary
school, where boys outperform girls on standardized tests and
participate in math and science classes at higher rates. In postsecondary
schools, young men go on to major in math and the sciences in
rates that exceed those of young women, many of whom are shut
of out of the career opportunities these fields can provide.
and Underachievement. Before Title IX, educators, guided
by stereotypes that girls could not achieve in math and science,
sometimes steered high school girls from higher-level math and
science classes and frequently excluded them from extracurricular
activities such as science and math clubs. Not surprisingly, girls'
achievement in science and math courses was lower than that of
their male counterparts.
The 1969-70 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)
of the country's students in science found grade school and
middle school boys outscored girls by an average 5 points; in
high school, the gap increased to 17 points. Today, the disturbing
pattern persists, but the high school gap has shrunken to 11
points, thanks in part to Title IX.
Performance levels also vary by gender. Among eighth graders,
the 1977 NAEP found 14 percent of boys performing at the highest
levels, compared to only 9 percent of girls, a 5-point gap.
In high school, the gap grew to a yawning 21 points, with 61
percent of senior boys performing at the highest levels, compared
to only 40 percent of senior girls. The past 25 years have done
little to close the gap: 1994 NAEP data (more recent NAEP data
use different measures and therefore cannot be compared easily
against 1970s data) recorded the same 10-point gap for eighth
graders and an only slightly improved 19-point gap for high
Just as in the case of science, the gender gap in math starts
out small in the early grades and grows by high school. The
1973 NAEP found that girls narrowly outscored boys at the fourth-
and eighth-grade levels; by high school, however, girls had
fallen behind by 8 points. By 1994 girls had lost their early
edge but had moved up in high school to within 5 points of boys.
Performance levels vary by gender in math, just as in science.
In 1978, 10 percent of senior boys performed at the highest
math level, compared to 5 percent of senior girls. This gap
also has narrowed: 1994 NAEP data measured the gap of high math
proficiency at 3 points. However, on high-stakes tests, such
as the SAT, the gap is much greater. Although girls' performance
on the math SAT has improved somewhat, College Board data show
boys still outscored girls by 35 points in 1996, compared to
44 points in 1972.
The persistence of the gender gap in high schooland its
tendency to grow as students advance in gradecontinues
to be a subject of great concern. This gap continues in higher
education and in careers in math- and science- related fields.
According to the American Association of University Women, gender
differences in confidencestudents' belief in their ability
to learn and perform wellcorrelate strongly with interest
in math and science. Girls doubt their confidence in math and
science more often than boys.
Rates. Girls' participation rates have unquestionably
increased since the passage of Title IX. For example, as recently
as 1986, only 8 percent of high school senior girls had taken
physics compared to 14 percent of boys; 39 percent of senior girls
had taken chemistry compared to 42 percent of boys. By 1994, 16
percent of high school senior girls had taken physics and 55 percent
had taken chemistry. And schools can no longer stop girls from
taking part in math- and science-related extracurricular activities.
However, female students' participation rates decline once they
enter postsecondary institutions, and steadily decrease as degree
level increases. For example, in 1994:
biology, women received 51 percent of bachelor's degrees,
but only 41 percent of doctoral degrees.
computer sciences, women received 28 percent of bachelor's,
26 percent of master's, and 15 percent of doctoral degrees.
participation in engineering stays small and shrinks, with
women receiving 15 percent of bachelor's degrees, 15 percent
of master's degrees, and 11 percent of doctoral degrees.
The gender gap persists in girls' science and math
achievement as measured by the NAEP, starting small
in elementary school, and increasing in high school.
In high-stakes tests, such as the math SAT, large
gaps persists, with girls scoring 35 points less than
Female students' low participation rates in math and
science classes decline as they advance in higher
As discussed in the section titled 'Access to Higher Education,'
the drop in female students' participation rates in math and science
likely is due, in part, to the hostile environment they encounter
in these fields. Women students frequently are regarded as tokens
in math or science and excluded from full participation in laboratory
and field work, or experience sexual and gender-based harassment
in these settings.
In addition, research shows that girls lag behind in computer
usage. Although more girls in school are using computers for homework
and telecommunicating, extracurricular activities such as computer
clubs and contests are still overwhelmingly male. Although software
companies are now marketing to girls, the games often rely on
sexist plots such as mall shopping and nabbing a boyfriend. Although
more girls are taking lower-level computing courses, only 16 percent
of Advanced Placement computer science test takers are girls.
We still have a long way to go.
Forward. Teaching methods already exist to encourage
and engage all students and to otherwise decrease or eliminate
the gender gaps in math and science. However, educators and administrators
must begin to employ these teaching methods in earlier grades
if the gender gap is to disappear. Further, educators and administrators
must look for ways to encourage girls to pursue math and science
while in secondary school so that more women will enter these
fields in colleges and pursue related careers.
should increase and target funding for the Eisenhower Professional
Development program so teachers can learn techniques to close
the gender gap in math and science.
should ensure that girls are active participants in science
and math classes in order to maximize their understanding
of these fields.
should step up its enforcement by conducting compliance reviews
to determine the causes for women's decreased participation
in math and science in higher education and by taking action
against those educational institutions that allow hostile
environments in these areas to persist.
Association of University Women. How Schools Shortchange
Girls: The AAUW Report (researched by the Wellesley College
Center for Research on Women) (AAUW Educational Foundation,
- S. Blaisdell,
Factors in the Underrepresentation of Women in Science and
Engineering. A Review of the Literature, Women in Engineering
Program Advocates Network (WEPAN) Working Paper 951
(Purdue University, 1995).
Campbell, C.M. Reese, C.Y. O'Sullivan, and J.A. Dossey,
NAEP 1994 Trends in Academic Progress (National Center
for Education Statistics, 1996).
Board, 1996 Profile of College Bound Seniors.
Research Council, Women in Science and Engineering. Increasing
their Numbers in the 1990s (National Academy Press, 1991).