Girls + Math = Gender stereotype?

Local schools say girls match boys in math test scores

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The long-held stereotypes that female students lag behind their male peers in math performance or that female students do not enjoy math as much as male students have largely fallen by the wayside in Oak Park and River Forest schools. Representatives of District 97, District 90 and District 200 report that very little disparity exists between the sexes in terms of math performance. 

Dr. Amy Warke, chief academic and accountability officer for the D97 Oak Park elementary schools, says that gender disparities in math have not been observed for years in the district. "Basically, we stopped cutting data by gender because there are no disparities by gender. We do continue to do spot checks, but there have not been any disparities with our local or state data in a number of years."

Warke does note that stereotypes may still exist around how the genders feel about math and says that a large focus of the district is countering stereotypes that may exist both in race and gender by using consistent messaging that D97 programming in STEM programming is for all students.

This fall, the district is partnering with the Oak Park Public Library on a community read of "Whistling Vivaldi" by Claude Steele. Among other issues, the book explores stereotypes of race and gender in standardized testing.  Warke says the book provides insight into the threat of various stereotypes in education, and she encourages all of the community to join in reading it.

In River Forest, District 90 Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Alison Hawley says that the district does not have a statistical analysis of data broken down by gender, but she believes the gender breakdown in math classes is roughly equal parts male and female. "I can say that in terms of different classrooms, we do see strong representation of girls in more accelerated math -- probably half or more than half in those classes."

District 90 Math Coach Nancy Mueller says that the schools have been very intentional about improving girls' interest in math. "We lean on Jo Boaler's work," she says of the Stanford University mathematics professor.  "One of the things she suggests to increase girls' self-efficacy is eliminating timed activities. Doing so can reduce anxiety. District 90 eliminated that practice in our math programs."

At Oak Park and River Forest High School, Julie Frey, the math division head, notes that the school has made great strides to counter gender stereotypes in math and says that in almost every performance metric, females perform as well as males in math at the school. Gender balance when hiring teachers is part of this effort.

"We are really intentional about making sure our teachers represent the demographics of the kids. With our math teachers, it is probably about 50-50 male to female, and it's not just men teaching higher level math. Our A.P. Calc teachers are 50-50, and the class makeup in A.P. Calc is roughly 50-50 in terms of gender as well."

She notes that while at the University of Illinois Chicago, she observed the Master's program in math was divided almost 50-50 between male and female students, but the PhD students were predominantly male. "The gender gap does still exist at this level and in engineering and computer science."

OPRF still has room to grow in terms of participation in some areas according to Frey. "A.P. Computer Science is almost all boys. I just hired a female computer science teacher to try to get more girls to take that class."

She also notes that on the American Math Competition, an annual, national test for those in higher level math classes, very few students get to move on to the competitive level, and the majority of those are male.

Of that disparity, Frey says, "Obviously, I don't think there's any difference in intelligence between the sexes, but there could be some very small systematic bias or some stereotype that girls think math is not for them."

SIDEBAR: Choosing math: OPRF's math team actively recruiting young women

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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Duckworth Ann from Milledgeville  

Posted: September 27th, 2018 2:08 PM

We need to see society provides love honor for us as women. We can reach our own plane of innersecurity without making a name. We have more opportunities to use our support to go to work in areas we enjoy. We are taking over many areas. We are having no problem getting ahead of our less supported male peers. We are doing better in many areas than our Male peers and making more money than our young Male peers. We can find happiness in areas we desire. The reason why many women are not going into stem or technical fields is because we are driven by different paths to our innersecurity that allow us to have different planes of fulfillment. We have won the war for even superiority. The belief boys should be strong allows aggressive treatment to make them tough. This is creating high average stress low social vocabulary, other bad things. This is causing Males to fall behind. Males are given love honor only on condition of achievement. Boys not achieving are given ridicule to make them try harder. Support is not given for fear of coddling. Since Males have been shortchanged due to mistreatment to make them tough this is causing many Males to fail. A few Males are given stability knowledge from a young age to compete. They are still falling behind their Female peers due to aggressive treatment less support. Those few Males are also given love and honor for achievement. Those few boys compete successfully in school to keep receiving love and honor. This can take on a drug-like force for those Males in where those boys/men are seeking out love and honor. This creates much achievement. Since those Males come from all areas their numbers may appear large. We are taking over. Even in stem fields as women choose stem fields they will take over those areas. The problem is not stem fields it is the crowd of men who are being shortchanged hurting ability to compete. Unless we see what is taking place we will keep seeking more equality yet deny masses of men ability to compete.

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