This report highlights the academic achievement gap between males and females in mathematics SAT scores in the USA. It provides some possible explanation for this gap in terms of nature and nurture. Evidence shows that boys’ and girls’ brains are quite different from birth and this leads to their different performance in math. However, the findings show that some social factors such as stereotypes and educational environment are the main reasons for higher achievement in mathematics by boys. If the gap becomes bigger and bigger, girls can be underestimated in this field and this also contributes to widening the general gap between boys and girls. In order to close this gap, the paper suggests some possible solutions including trying to help girls have the best educational environment and approach to effective methods to study mathematics.

Introduction

Academic achievement gap (or the achievement gap in education) can be defined as ‘the disparity in academic performance between groups of students’ (Education Week 2011). It is often measured by SAT- Scholastic Aptitude Test. This gap is very different among level of students or subjects. Also, it clearly occurs between boys and girls in mathematics.

Many people emphasis there has a gap that exists between men’s and women’s achievement in Mathematics until now. According to the College Board (2011), female students have lower scores on average than males in SAT test for mathematics (See Figure 1 below). This report will analyze the data to identify main possible reasons and make some recommendation for this gap in the USA.

Figure 1. Adapted from The College Board 2011

Findings

The findings section is divided into two main parts: recognizing the academic achievement gender gap in the USA and explaining primary reasons including the nature differences between two genders and the disparity in nurture process of boys and girls.

Recognition of the academic achievement gap

Figure 2. Adapted from Total Group Profile Report 2010

It can be seen from the figure 2 that the different scores in math between two genders have not changed much for 10 years. In 1990, men scored about 520 while women got approximately 480. Until 2010, after ten years, men and women got higher math score but also remained the distance in their academic performances. Women still achieved more than 30 points lower than men. In other words, their academic achievement gap in mathematics still obviously exists with nearly the same size.

Explanations for the gender gap in Math

Natural differences

The disparity in brain of males and females is a sensible reason for their different math achievement (Fisk 2011). Generally, women’s and men’s brains have differed from each other since they were born. MBB Junior Symposium (2005) states evidence from Baron- Cohen’s book that commonly, women have brain type E – ‘empathizing’ while men’s are S – ‘systemizing’. In other words, girls tend to be more emotional whereas boys are often more logical. In addition, Baron-Cohen mentions that spatial and mathematical ability belong to type S of brain. Apparently, male students have a tendency to dominate science areas including mathematics.

Differences in nurture process (Social factors)

Assumption of stereotype

A lot of people always assume that boys are good at science field, including math much more than girls. Even children in the USA have kept this thought in their mind since they were still in their middle childhood (Geisler 2008). Based on some empirical knowledge, this is somewhat make senses. However, this assumption also poses a threat to women. They might lose their confidence in their math performance and as a result, their achievements are also affected (Niederle & Vesterlund 2010). Working under pressure like that may create a mentally fatigue and depression in girls, which possibly makes female students gradually give up on math. Thus, the gender gap in math achievement can become wider. The assumption- the bias in this case, that lasted for a long time and still imprinted in people’s mind until now has a negative influence to academic achievement gap between two genders in mathematics.

Environmental factors

Environment plays a part of the successful performance among students. Obviously, it also has a huge impact on the achievement gap between boys and girls in mathematics. In the modern life today, male and female students usually study in public school together with a general learning environment. This can be a disadvantage for women. Fryer & Levitt (2009) in their analysis restates from Gneezy’s observation that men have better performance than women in co-educational environment. However, when they are separated, this gap no longer exists. It is easy to see that when boys and girls are in all a class, the comparison between two genders performances is almost unavoidable, especially in science subjects like mathematics. Commonly, boys often achieve better results as mentioned above. Accidentally, boys will be paid more attention to develop their mathematical ability. This might lead to high pressure on girls’ thoughts as well as their performances.

Conclusion

The gender gap between male and female students in Mathematics is clarified by analyzing the SAT scores in their academic performances in the USA. From the past to the present, this gap still have appeared and kept the same. This disparity between two genders in math achievements can be explained by two main factors: the natural difference in their brains and social factors like the assumption of people about stereotype in math and educational environment. If nothing is implemented to close the gap, the country will lose female talents in science field, more specific, in mathematics due to the pressure of studying environment. Besides, the stereotype assumption always exists until the gap vanishes can become biases in the near future. If this happens, women might be underestimated in science fields, and it also contributes to creating not only the academic gap in Math but also the general gap between two genders become wider.

Recommendations

The inequality between men and women in mathematics achievement is a complicated problem. It is necessary to narrow this gap as soon as possible. However, it will take times to achieve success. Besides, in reality, the natural disparity between men’s and women’s brain is unchangeable. Hence, possible solutions below are just suggested to apply in term of social factors.

Courtney from Study Moose

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