Academic journal article Childhood Education

Gender Differences in Young Adolescents' Mathematics and Science Achievement

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Gender Differences in Young Adolescents' Mathematics and Science Achievement

Article excerpt

Research on gender differences in academic achievement offers educators of young adolescents thought-provoking information on implications and guidance on specific directions to take. The accumulated literature on this topic covers students' confidence in learning mathematics, sex-typed expectations for performance in mathematics and science, self-estimations of ability to learn science and mathematics, "mathematics risk-taking" behaviors, laboratory experiences for females, and participation in science fairs. In this review of literature, the author pays particular attention to research that: 1) focuses on gender differences in mathematics and science achievement, and 2) offers implications for middle level school educators addressing young adolescents' gender-specific needs.

The Need for Objectivity

Any discussion of the relationship between gender and academic achievement should consider the gender, cultural, racial and socioeconomic differences of females and males. Thornburg (1982) asserted that diversity is the hallmark characteristic of young adolescents. This assertion becomes even more important as educators and researchers consider gender differences. Skaalvik (1990) contended that gender stereotypes and differential sex role socialization patterns are often used to explain or justify gender differences in achievement. Middle school educators have a professional responsibility to maintain a sense of objectivity, consider females and males as individuals, and avoid basing education decisions on stereotypes and false perceptions. Implications drawn from research also should be free of gender stereotypes.

Academic Achievement in Mathematics

The NAEP 1996 Mathematics Report Card for the Nation and the States, the latest edition of the ongoing survey of students' educational progress in the U.S., measures progress in five mathematics strands: number sense, properties and operations; measurement; geometry and spatial sense; data analysis, statistics and probability; and algebra and functions. In 1996, 4th-grade males' average scores were higher than scores for 4th-grade females; however, average scores for 8th- and 12th-grade males and females did not show any significant differences (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1997a).

Another report looking at gender differences in mathematics achievement, Everybody Counts: A Report to the Nation on the Future of Mathematics Education (National Research Council, 1989), maintained that as girls and boys progress through the mathematics curriculum, they show little difference in ability, effort or interest until the adolescent years. Then, as social pressures increase, girls tend to exert Tess effort in studying mathematics, which progressively limits their future education and, eventually, their career choices. The report also noted that gender differences in mathematics performance result from the accumulated effects of sex-role stereotyping perpetrated by families, schools and society (p. 23). Although American society pays lip service to being committed to equal opportunity, public attitudes perpetuate stereotypes that "girls really can't do math" (p. 23) and that "math is unfeminine" (p. 23). As long as such stereotypes exist, females will continue to drop out prematurely from mathematics education (National Research Council 1989).

Looking specifically at mathematics achievement, Terwilliger and Titus (1995) studied participants in the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program (UMTYMP) to determine gender differences of mathematically talented youth on attitudinal measures related to academic success. The researchers examined specific measures related to interest, motivation, confidence, readiness, support, priorities and stereotypes.

Males showed significantly higher levels of motivation, confidence and interest in mathematics than females. Despite the efforts of the UMTYMP program staff to provide a supportive, encouraging atmosphere for females, gender differences increased over the two-year period. …

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