Study: Girls Get Better Scores On Math Tests If Teachers Don't Know They're Girls
Credit: paulhami
February 10, 2015

This is pretty amazing. A bias in math? Girls really are getting the short end of the stick, looks like:

When it comes to explaining why women are underrepresented in STEM, it’s not enough to point to discrimination in hiring, even though that is a real phenomenon. It’s also true that STEM fields have a “pipeline” problem, where not enough girls are choosing to pursue education, and eventually careers in science and tech. New research suggests that part of the problem is girls are being discouraged at very young ages from thinking of themselves as capable at math.

Victor Lavy of the University of Warwick in England and Edith Sand of Tel Aviv University recently published a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research that suggests one reason girls do less well in math is because teachers expect less of them. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times summarizes the study:

Beginning in 2002, the researchers studied three groups of Israeli students from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, one graded by outsiders who did not know their identities and another by teachers who knew their names.

In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names. The effect was not the same for tests on other subjects, like English and Hebrew. The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls’, and that this had long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward the subjects.

As University of Minnesota, Morris biology professor PZ Myers said in his Science Blogs response to the study, these findings are particularly remarkable because math is supposed to be one of “those incredibly objective disciplines in which questions all have a right answer and a best method.” But according to this study, teacher expectations can have a strong hand in guiding how even math scores are assessed.

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