Gender Differences in Middle School Math Scores Research Paper

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Gender Differences in Middle School Math Scores

Gender differences inherently affect the learning styles of students. This fact is demonstrated at quite an early age and accounts for the fact that in several instances, girls are more prepared for reading at the time they begin the formal education process found in schools than boys are (James, 2007). In fact, despite the abundance of knowledge for the past several years that in most cases boys demonstrate greater proclivities for math and science whereas girls demonstrate a greater affinity for reading and the language arts, traditional classroom-based education has been able to narrow this gap in the proficiency of each gender, yet not eliminate it. The National Association for Education Progress, which provides standardized testing for students in basic educational skills that includes several areas of mathematics, provides proof of this fact. In 2004, there was a disparity of approximately three percentage points between the prowess of boys and girls in the completion of numerical operations and beginning problem solving for fourth grade students (at nine years old). That scoring gap increased to a difference of seven percentage points favoring boys at the middle school level of eighth grade (13-year-olds) in completing moderately complex procedures and reading (NCES, 2005).

What is also of immense interest to this particular study is the fact that the scoring gap between boys and girls had narrowed back down to 3.5% for 17-year-olds tested in multi-step problem solving and algebra. The results from this examination indicate that the stage at which the Gender Differences in the scoring between the mathematical proficiency of boys and girls is most pronounced is in middle school Significantly, this is the stage at which this gap begins to decrease, which is why the bulk of the focus of this particular paper will be on the differences in learning styles that both account for and help to narrow the difference in the scoring gap in math between boys and girls.

In seeking to address cognitive differences between the genders in middle school that can account for the scoring disparity in math, it is essential to note the role that spatial relations plays in explaining these differences. Spatial relations, of course, are relationships based on location that distinguishes things from one another. Spatial relations are fairly integral to math at all levels. At the basic level of mere addition and subtraction, it is necessary for students to know how "far away" numbers are from each other. By the time they move on to more advanced concepts of math in middle school that include geometry and basic algebra, spatial relations play an increasingly vital role in the understanding and carrying out of mathematical problems and concepts. Spatial relations are even involved in problem solving -- an area in which males traditionally outperform their female counterparts (Zheng, 2007, p. 183). Conventional research findings have indicated that males are more proficient at understanding and gauging spatial relations than girls are, and allude to the fact that difficulties -- both perceived and actual -- with spatial relations accounts for troubles girls have with math that their male counterparts do not (James, 2007).

Moreover, research by Germanna Community College adjunct professor Abigail James entitled "Gender Differences and the Teaching of Mathematics" recognizes that there are a number of distinct differences that exist between the genders in traditional classroom learning, some of which can considerably affect the efficacy of various learning styles that are used to teach these students math. For instance, one of the traits that typically characterizes young girls learners, their ability to understand body language and facial expressions, benefits them little in learning mathematics. However, some of the male attributes, such as a tendency for activity and the fact that they learn best via kinesthetic activities, may advantage them when utilizing some of the early tactile methods for addition, subtraction and place holding. Other characteristics, including the fact that males have better vision than girls while the latter typically have better hearing than males do, strongly allude to the fact that differences in learning style may both account for and help to decrease the scoring gap between each of these type of learners in math.

A look at other research related to gender differences in math for middle school students, Catherine T. Amelink's "Literature Overview: Gender Differences in Math Performance" directly addresses the fact that even in junior high, when the differences between the scoring aptitude between male and female students is most pronounced, it is by no means a huge gap. NAEP's 2007 research in Math Performance Levels by Gender and Grade indicates that 72% of males are at or above basic levels of math performance as compared to 71% of girls at this level 34% of boys were at or above a proficient math performance level as compared to 30% of girls, while 8% of boys were at or above proficient math performance levels, as compared to 6% of girls at this level (NAEP 2007). This information underscores the fact that the scoring gap between genders exists, but is by no means a substantial disparity. An analysis of the relatively close scoring gap between the genders is indicative of the fact that the disparity cannot be attributed to ability, but rather to more subtle differences. Some of these differences include factors such as demographic profile of male and female test takers; the construct being studied; male and female differences in experiences in the same classrooms and subsequent interest in mathematics careers; the possibility that females are less confident when solving mathematics; and lower female enrollment in mathematics courses (Amelink, 2009, p. 11-12).

Consideration of the aforementioned factors is oftentimes used as evidence to support the fact that quite frequently, female students have higher GPAs than their male counterparts, yet the former typically underachieves on standardized examinations related to math.

Also, in order to better determine what sort of learning style is most beneficial to members of each gender, it is essential to analyze inherent differences that take place within learning that effects each gender. The notion that it is possible to have a gender neutral educational environment is not supported by contemporary research. The proclivities of each gender to have an educational area in which its members feel more comfortable attests to this fact, as is the notion that, despite the fact that males typically incur more difficult than females in reading at younger ages, "Boys in single-sex schools where books are provided that appeal to them and where their level of reading skills is not compared to girls appear to make more progress in language arts" (James, 2007).

Quite often, classroom environments are either based on one gender or another. In some situations, this gender basis can take the form of gender bias, such as what frequently happens in settings in which teachers may solicit answers for math problems on a class-wide basis from male students more than females, or in circumstances in which teachers make the efforts to boost the moral and overall confidence of one gender more than the other (Amelink, 2009, p. 12). In either case, it has been demonstrated that one of the factors that attributes to females having the same general aptitude for mathematics yet consistently scoring lower in assessments than their male counterparts do is linked to both a fear of failure, a cognizance of the perception that females typically are outperformed in math by males, and may also have to do with parental and familiar reinforcement of stereotypes in this area of study. These notions all contribute to low confidence, which is corroborated bu the underreprestenation of female students in math and science classes, including computer science (Fat & Yuen, 2010, 1090).

Therefore, the examination of learning styles that may account for and hopefully decrease the scoring gap between male and female middle school math students will have to account for classroom-based preferences as well as social (or familial) stereotypes as well. This phenomenon in which social conceptions of differences in gender play an active part in the performance of children in various academic disciplines, most eminently math, is known as stereotype threat and should be considered and accounted for by virtually all pedagogues looking to educate both genders in an equitable fashion. The research efforts of Sarah Singletary et al. In a paper entitled "Stereotype Threat: Causes, Effects and Remedies" indicates that some of the more tangible symptoms of this condition include

…anxiety, psychological arousal, domain identification (i.e., a belief that a particular subject area is important to your self-concept), overcompensation (i.e., putting in detrimental amounts of effort), and/or other affective (i.e., emotional) and cognitive responses (Singletary et al., 2009, p. 1).

Because of the propensity for symptoms of this condition to occur during the crucial stage of adolescent development that is represented by students' middle school experience and which may contribute to the scoring gap between both genders in mathematics, evidence exists that incorporating the following measures into the teaching and learning styles of students… [END OF PREVIEW]

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