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The College Board released its 2015 SAT college-entrance test results this week, and the overall results were somewhat disappointing (“ugly” according to AEI’s Rick Hess’s article below), see Washington Post article “SAT scores at lowest level in 10 years, fueling worries about high school” and the National Review article “The New SAT Results Aren’t Pretty,” by AEI scholar Rick Hess, who points out that the “scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest point since the venerable college-admission test was revamped in 2005.”
As in the past, my main interest in the annual SAT test results is the ongoing gender gap in favor of boys for the SAT math test, and this year wasn’t any different than previous years. Here’s what this year’s SAT math test results show:
1. Continuing an uninterrupted trend that dates back to at least 1972, high school boys outperformed girls on the 2015 SAT math test with an average score of 527 points compared to the average score of 496 for females, see chart above. The statistically significant 31-point male advantage this year on the SAT math test is the same as the 31-point difference last year, and just slightly below the 33.9 point difference over the last two decades favoring boys.
2. For the 121,057 students with SAT math scores in the highest 700-800 point range, high school boys represented 62.3% of those students (75,429) and the 45,628 girls in that group were 37.7% of the total. Stated differently, there were 165.3 boys with SAT math scores between 700-800 points for every 100 girls with scores in that range. For the next highest 100-point range between 600-700 points for the 2015 SAT math test, there were about 121 boys with scores in that range for every 100 high school girls (55% boys vs. 45% girls).
3. The statistically significant difference in math test scores in favor of boys is consistent across all ethnic groups as the table above shows. The smallest difference is a 13-point advantage in favor of boys for black high school students, and the biggest difference is a 33-point advantage for both Hispanic and white students.
Q: How do we explain the persistent gender gap in favor of boys for mathematical aptitude across all ethnic groups, as demonstrated by their consistent out-performance on the SAT math test for more than 40 years?
One possible explanation for the fact that high school boys consistently score higher on average than girls on the math SAT test and outnumbered girls by 1.65-to-1 for test scores on the high end (700-800 points) in 2015, would be that high school boys are better students on average than high school girls and are better prepared in mathematics than their female classmates. But that explanation would be false, based on College Board data for students taking the 2015 SAT test:
4. For 2015 SAT test-takers, high school girls had superior overall academic high school records compared to boys: females represented 55% of the students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes (Table 11), 59% of the students graduating with an A+ grade point average were female (Table 12), and high school girls graduated with a higher overall average GPA of 3.45 compared to a 3.31 average GPA for their male counterparts (Table 12).
5. High school girls were over-represented in advanced AP/Honors math classes (54%) compared to boys (46%), and also in advanced AP/Honors science classes by 56% to 44% (Tables 14 and 15).
6. For those high school students taking four years of high school mathematics, girls were over-represented (55%) compared to boys (45%), and more of the students studying natural sciences for four years were female students (54%) than male (46%).
Bottom Line: Even though female high school students are better prepared academically than their male classmates on many different measures, both overall and for mathematics specifically, female high school students score significantly lower on the SAT math test, and the +30-point differences in test scores favoring males has persisted for generations and exists across all ethnic groups. At the high-end of math performance, high school males significantly outperformed their female peers on the 2015 SAT math test by a ratio of 1.62-to-1 for scores between 700 and 800, and that outcome has persisted for many decades.
Despite the persistent, statistically significant differences in math performance by gender on the math SAT test that have continued for generations, we hear statements like this: “There just aren’t gender differences anymore in math performance,” according to University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, who says further that “parents and teachers need to revise their thoughts about this. Stereotypes are very, very resistant to change, but as a scientist I have to challenge them with data.” Given the significant and persistent gender differences in SAT math test scores that have persisted over many generations across all ethnic groups, the scientific data about gender differences in math performance would seem to present a serious challenge to Professor Hyde’s frequent claims that there are no gender differences in math performance.
Further, the fact that women are underrepresented in STEM occupations and hold only 26% of STEM jobs according to a 2013 Department of Commerce report certainly isn’t because female students are being discouraged from studying math and science in high school. In fact, the evidence shows that females are excelling in math and science in high school – they outnumber males in AP/Honors math and science courses, and are more likely than their male counterparts to take four years of math and science courses.
Further, compared to boys, high school girls get better grades on average, and are far more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their high school classes, and are much more likely than boys to attend and graduate from college and go on to graduate schools. By all objective measures, girls have essentially all of the necessary ingredients that should result in greater representation in STEM fields like engineering and computer science except perhaps for one: a huge, statistically significant and persistent 30-point gender gap on the SAT math test in favor of boys that has persisted for more than 40 years. If there are some inherent gender differences for mathematical ability, as the huge and persistent gender differences for the math SAT test suggests, closing the STEM gender degree and job gaps may be a futile attempt in socially engineering an unnatural and unachievable outcome.
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