Add math to the list of things girls do just as well as boys, if not better.
Sixteen years after the talking Barbie doll proclaimed that "math class is tough," a study paid for by the National Science Foundation has found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests.
Although 20 years ago test results showed boys in high school almost always performed better than girls in math, that is no longer the case. That's because whereas girls used to take fewer advanced math courses than boys, today they are taking just as many.
"People are surprised by these findings, which suggests to me that the stereotypes are still there," Marcia C. Linn of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study, told The New York Times.
The findings, reported in the July 25 issue of Science magazine, are based on math scores from 7 million students in ten states. Using No Child Left Behind Act testing standards, researchers looked at the average of all test scores, the performance of the most gifted kids and the ability to solve complex math problems. They found, in every category, that girls did as well as boys.
The study also analyzed the gender gap on the math section of the SAT, the test students take in preparation for college. It found that this so-called "gap" probably can be attributed to a skewed pool of test takers, since about 100,000 more girls than boys take the test (because more girls go to college these days), including lower performing girls. That brings down the overall average of the entire group.
Girls are still underrepresented, however, in high-school physics classes and in the highest levels of physics, chemistry and engineering, which require advanced math skills. The Times also recently reported that federal science agencies are probing whether gender discrimination is taking place at universities receiving federal money for science grants.
"The stereotype that boys do better at math is still held widely by teachers and parents," said Janet Hyde, a professor who led the study. "And teachers and parents guide girls, giving them advice about what courses to take, what careers to pursue. I still hear anecdotes about guidance counselors steering girls away from engineering, telling them they won't be able to do the math."
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