Student Achievement

U.S. Girls Perform Evenly With Boys in Math and Science, PISA Data Show

By Liana Loewus — December 13, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

There’s still a mountain of PISA data to dig into (with caveats in mind, of course). But one piece I’ve found particularly compelling is that, in the United States, there was no statistical difference between boys’ and girls’ scores in either math or science. In many other countries, the 2012 OECD report notes, “marked gender differences in mathematics performance—in favour of boys—are observed.” Three years ago, American boys outperformed girls in math on PISA; their science scores were similar.

“In math and science, the United States has overcome some of the gender differences,” Andreas Schleicher proclaimed at the Dec. 3 PISA Day event in Washington.

However, there are some complicating factors.

A year and a half ago, Education Week reported that, based on 2011 data from the Advanced Placement program and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the STEM gender gap was still pronounced. Erik Robelen wrote:

Take the AP program. In all 10 STEM subjects currently taught and tested, including chemistry, physics, calculus, and computer science, the average scores of females lagged behind males, according to data for the class of 2011.

The 2012 PISA also collected data on students’ “engagement, drive, and self-beliefs,” and a little cross-referencing shows a separate gender disparity—what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck might call a “mindset” gap. According to the report:

[E]ven when girls perform as well as boys in mathematics, they tend to report less perseverance, less openness to problem-solving, less intrinsic and instrumental motivation to learn mathematics, less self-belief in their ability to learn mathematics and more anxiety about mathematics than boys, on average; they are also more likely than boys to attribute failure in mathematics to themselves rather than to external factors.

Further, if girls really are making up ground in high school math and science, as Schleicher suggests, it does not seem to be translating to the postsecondary setting. In a recent series about women and minorities in STEM, the New York Times’ editorial board noted that women make up half the workforce but only a quarter of those in STEM jobs.

And just yesterday Education Week‘s Alyssa Morones wrote that the gender gap among those pursuing computer science degrees has widened.

So what does this all add up to? As with many things PISA-related, it’s hard to say with any certainty. Those who subscribe to popular theories on the importance of grit would say girls’ lack of perseverance, intrinsic motivation, and belief in their ability in math and science are ultimately winning out over their performance, and causing the STEM career gender gap. The New York Times’ editorial board argues that many women rule out STEM careers “partly because they are uninterested, feel ill-prepared for them or because society identifies these domains as male.”

But perhaps it’s best to just go with another caveat: While PISA in part aims to predict global competitiveness, you’ll need to look at much more than just the performance data to really understand the landscape. It’s a far leap from 15-year-olds’ performance to the job market.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Schools Straddle the Pandemic and Familiar Headwinds in Quest to Boost Quality
The latest Quality Counts summative grades show stubbornly average performance by the nation's schools overall, despite pockets of promise.
1 min read
Illustration of C letter grade
Student Achievement Spotlight Spotlight on Learning Gaps
In this Spotlight, analyze where learners – and educators – are in their learning process; see what other leaders are planning, and more.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Whitepaper
The Tutoring Solution: Exclusive Survey Findings
A white paper commissioned by Kelly Education and published by the EdWeek Research Center finds that parents and educators alike are on b...
Content provided by Kelly Education
Student Achievement Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Student Achievement?
Quiz Yourself: How is your district doing with student achievement?