Girls outdistance boys on national science test

Eighth-graders fared better on a national test designed to measure their command of technology and engineering concepts.

Scores improved from 2014 to 2018, the two years students have taken the Technology and Engineering Literacy test. But a gender gap is growing: Girls’ scores improved in 2018, while boys’ scores remained relatively stagnant.

“It’s encouraging to see girls continue to perform so well on analyzing and solving real-world technological problems,” said Peggy G. Carr, the associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal office that collects and analyzes student test data. “These results suggest that girls have the foundational abilities to be successful in (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.”

No state-level scores were released Tuesday, so there’s no way of knowing how Idaho students fared on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam. Dubbed “The Nation’s Report Card,” NAEP is designed to show what students know, and what they can do, across several academic disciplines.

Here are a few big-picture data points from Tuesday:

  • In 2018, students scored an average of 152 on the test. That’s a slight — yet statistically significant — increase from four years ago, when the average score came in at 150. (Students are graded on a 300-point scale.)
  • Girls averaged 155 on the test, a four-point increase from four years ago. Boys averaged 150, a slight increase over the four-year period.
  • Students from the West averaged 152, mirroring the national results.
  • Scores improved for several ethnic groups, but scores for Hispanic students remained virtually unchanged. Their average score was 139.
  • Students who qualify for federally subsidized free- or reduced price meals averaged 138, a three-point increase from 2014.

Administered in early 2018 in 600 schools nationwide, the hour-long computer test is designed to measure how well students can use, understand and evaluate technology. A portion of the test included “scenario-based tasks,” such as building a bike path or designing a museum exhibit.

Predictably enough, students with a background in the STEM disciplines tended to fare better on the test. Eighth-graders who have taken at least one technology or engineering course scored eight points higher than students who had not taken such a class.

But at the same time, boys are more likely to take a technology or engineering class by eighth grade, by a margin of 61 percent to 53 percent. So, while more boys took classes in STEM disciplines, girls still fared better on the test.

“I know that there are real differences in students’ access to experiences,” said Tonya Matthews, an engineer who serves as vice chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, the nonpartisan body that sets policy for NAEP.

The nationwide NAEP results are somewhat different than the results of Idaho’s standardized science test.

Last school year, 32 percent of boys received an advanced score, the highest possible mark, on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test in science. By comparison, 27 percent of girls received an advanced score.

But boys were also more likely to fall below a basic score on the science ISAT, by a margin of 18 percent to 16 percent.

Students take the science ISAT in fifth through seventh grade, and in high school.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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