Girls are as smart as boys, but tests are getting dumber

New research published in the journal Science confirms what all of us teachers have known for a long time: girls are just as smart as boys. I hope none of our tax dollars went into that one.

New research published in the journal Science confirms what all of us teachers have known for a long time: girls are just as smart as boys. I hope none of our tax dollars went into that one. A quick quote from the article before I get into the more interesting findings from the researchers:

Overall, the researchers found "no gender difference" in scores among children in grades two through 11. Among students with the highest test scores, the team did find that white boys outnumbered white girls by about two to one. Among Asians, however, that result was nearly reversed. Hyde says that suggests that cultural and social factors, not gender alone, influence how well students perform on tests.

So on to the good stuff. The researchers found that most of the standardized tests on which they based their results were omitting difficult math questions. These are the questions that require critical thinking or simply call on higher-level math courses. As we all know, especially here in the States, teachers everywhere must "teach to the test," since so much is tied to the standardized testing mandated by No Child Left Behind (anyone here counting down until GW gets left behind, by the way?). Whether it's graduation, funding, or teacher promotion, a lot rides on these tests.

Yet the tests are designed to ensure that all kids meet a certain basic level of understanding, meaning that teachers rarely have time to teach upper level math, focusing instead on the lowest common denominators (no pun intended):

The study's most disturbing finding, the authors say, is that neither boys nor girls get many tough math questions on state tests now required to measure a school district's progress under the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. Using a four-level rating scale, with level one being easiest, the authors said that they found no challenging level-three or -four questions on most state tests. The authors worry that means that teachers may start dropping harder math from their curriculums, because "more teachers are gearing their instruction to the test."

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