STEM Statistics: K-12 Education

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Female students' achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers, and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2018).

  • In general, female and male students perform equally well in mathematics and science on standardized tests, but larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds or family income, with white and Asian/Pacific Islander students and those from higher income families scoring higher than their counterparts who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native or who are from lower income families.
  • A few small differences in average mathematics scores by sex were observed in 2015 within racial or ethnic groups. In grade 4, the average score for white male students was 2 points higher than the score for white female students. Among black students in grade 4, the pattern was reversed, with the average score for black female students 2 points higher than the score for black male students. The largest difference in average scores for male and female students was among Hispanic students in grade 12. The average score for male students was 5 points higher than that for female students.
  • All ninth graders who began high school in 2009 and completed in 2013 took at least one science course, with 79% taking at least one general science course (but no advanced science) and 21% taking at least one advanced course. However, students with less educated parents or of lower socioeconomic status (SES) were less likely to take at least one advanced course. Science coursetaking showed slight differences among male and female students. In advanced coursetaking, female students were slightly more likely than male students to take advanced biology (13% versus 10%) and slightly less likely to take advanced physics (4% versus 7%).  Some sex differences in science coursetaking were observed when race or ethnicity was taken into account, for example, black female students were more likely to take at least one advanced science course than their male counterparts (18% versus 9%)
  • Enrollment in high level mathematics courses did not significantly differ by sex, but did vary by race and ethnicity, parent education level, and SES. For example. Asian students took advanced mathematics courses at a significantly higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group, with 50% taking calculus or higher, compared with 22% for white students, 15% for Hispanic students, and 9% for black students. Female and male students took AP exams in calculus AB, statistics and chemistry at roughly the same rates in 2013. However, males were more likely to take advanced level AP exams, including calculus BC, physics B and physics C.
  • Male students were more likely than female students to take engineering (21% versus 8%) and enroll in AP computer science A (77% vs 23%) however there were no significant differences in the percentage of male and female students take other computer science classes.
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