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October 25, 2017

The new gender gap

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has focused a lot of its efforts into analyzing the science data portion of the most recent round of the international comparative assessment known as PISA.  In particular, they analyzed some of the gender differences that were found related to sciences.  The conclusion that many could come to when looking at the general data from the assessment is the gender gap has closed significantly in the sciences. The OECD average science score for boys in 2015 was 495 and girls was 491, resulting in a mere 4 point gender gap.  Another indicator to assess the gender gap in science is the percent of boys versus girls expecting to work in a science related field.  The OECD average for boys is 25% and girls is 23.9%.  The United States has a different gender gap with 33% of boys and 43% of girls expecting to enter a career related to science. These data points give a false sense that the gender gap in science no longer exists.  However, with deeper analysis it is clear that the gap is still very present but now is no longer about whether girls are interested in the general concept of science but which areas within science each gender finds more interesting.

The OECD broke down science-related fields into five categories to see if girls were more dominant than boys in certain types of sciences, which is exactly what they found.  For example, 14.4% of girls compared to 5.9% of boys expect to work as a health care professional.  It is important to note that this title includes professions ranging from nurses to surgeons, since nursing tends to be a heavily female profession.

gender gap graph 1

The opposite was true for the engineering and natural science fields.  According to the OECD average, boys were 2.4 times more likely to enter these fields compared to girls.  The gap was even wider for the United States where boys are 3.3 times more likely to enter the engineering field than girls.  This clearly show that a gap persists depending on the type of science- related profession a student wishes to enter.

gender gap graph 2

The third point that I want to highlight is the difference in “enjoyment of science”.  As you can see from the graph below, boys report higher than average enjoyment on all questions about learning general science.  Girls, on the other hand, report lower than average enjoyment on all questions.  When people enjoy learning about a subject, they tend to look for more opportunities to gain exposure. This is very concerning for girls, because while they may dominate in select science related professions, they do not enjoy learning about science as much as boys.  The OECD gave recommendations to help girls see the fun in science at home and at school.  Simple activities like encouraging girls to read nonfiction, which is read by significantly more boys, is one example of introducing girls to the interesting explorative side of sciences.

gedner gap graph 3

This shows how important it is to dig deeper into data and information about gender gaps to see where disparities lie.  With deeper analysis, the gender gap is undeniable and shows that boys and girls still view science very differently.  While the gender gap persists in the United States, it is obvious that it is an international problem that many nations are trying to solve.  This is an area where policy makers could look to their international peers to devise and test different solutions since it is a universal problem that everyone is trying to solve.

Filed under: CPE,International Comparisons,science — Tags: , — Annie Hemphill @ 11:11 am





December 7, 2016

PISA scores remain stagnant for U.S. students

The results of the latest PISA or the Program for International Student Assessment are in and as usual, we have an interpretation of the highlights for you.

If you recall, PISA is designed to assess not just students’ academic knowledge but their application of that knowledge and is administered to 15-year-olds across the globe every three years by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in coordination with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Each iteration of the PISA has a different focus and the 2015 version honed in on science, though it also tested math and reading proficiency among the roughly half-million teens who participated in this round. So, how did American students stack up?

In short, our performance was average in reading and science and below average in math, compared to the 35 other OECD member countries.  Specifically, the U.S. ranked 19th in science, 20th in reading and 31st in math. But PISA was administered in countries beyond OECD members and among that total group of 70 countries and education systems (some regions of China are assessed as separate systems), U.S. teens ranked 25th in science, 22nd in reading, and 40th in math.  Since 2012, scores were basically the same in science and reading, but dropped 11 points in math.

PISA Science

Before you get too upset over our less-than-stellar performance, though, there are a few things to take into account.  First, scores overall have fluctuated in all three subjects.  Some of the top performers such as South Korea and Finland have seen 20-30 point drops in math test scores from 2003 to 2015 at the same time that the U.S. saw a 13 point drop.  Are half of the countries really declining in performance, or could it be a change in the test, or a change in how the test corresponds with what and how material is taught in schools?

Second, the U.S. has seen a large set of reforms over the last several years, which have disrupted the education system.  Like many systems, a disruption may cause a temporary drop in performance, but eventually stabilize.  Many teachers are still adjusting to teaching the Common Core Standards and/or Next Generation Science Standards; the 2008 recession caused shocks in funding levels that we’re still recovering from; many school systems received waivers from No Child Left Behind which substantially change state- and school-level policies.  And, in case you want to blame Common Core for lower math scores, keep in mind that not all test-takers live in states that have adopted the Common Core, and even if they do, some have only learned under the new standards for a year or two.  Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA test for the OECD, predicts that the Common Core Standards will eventually yield positive results for the U.S., but that we must be patient.

Demographics

Student scores are correlated to some degree with student poverty and the concentration of poverty in some schools.  Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 2.5 times more likely to perform poorly than advantaged students.  Schools with fewer than 25 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch (about half of all students nationwide are eligible) would be 2nd in science, 1st in reading, and 11th in math out of all 70 countries.  At the other end of the spectrum, schools with at least 75 percent of students who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 44th in science, 42nd in reading, and 47th in math.  Compared only to OECD countries, high-poverty schools would only beat four countries in science, four countries in reading, and five in math.

Score differences for different races in the U.S. show similar disparities.

How individual student groups would rank compared to the 70 education systems tested:

Science Reading Math
White 5th 4th 20th
Black 49th 44th 51st
Hispanic 40th 37th 44th
Asian 8th 2nd 20th
Mixed Race 19th 20th 38th

 

Equity

Despite the disparities in opportunity for low-income students, the number of low-income students who performed better than expected increased by 12 percentage points since 2006, to 32 percent.  The amount of variation attributable to poverty decreased from 17 percent in 2006 to 11 percent in 2015, meaning that poverty became less of a determining factor in how a student performed.

Funding

America is one of the largest spenders on education, as we should be, given our high per capita income.  Many have bemoaned that we should be outscoring other nations based on our higher spending levels, but the reality is that high levels of childhood poverty and inequitable spending often counteract the amount of money put into the system.  For more info on this, see our previous blogpost.






October 28, 2016

NAEP science scores reveal progress at lower grades, stagnation at 12th-grade

The National Assessment Governing Board released its 2015 Science scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders.  The results were positive overall, with achievement gaps narrowing and scores improving for almost all student groups in fourth and eighth-grade students.  Twelfth-grade scores remained stagnant across all groups.

The tests assess students’ ability to identify and use science principles, use scientific inquiry, and use technological design in physical science, life science, and Earth and space science.  Student responses are a combination of written (including multiple choice and open-ended questions) and interactive computer and hands-on tasks.

Of great concern, however, are the persistent gaps between students of different races, genders, and education status (English Learners and Special Education students).  While these gaps are narrowing, we have to figure out how to provide greater opportunities to all students.

NAEP_Science_Gaps

http://nationsreportcard.gov/science_2015/files/overview.pdf

 

Some states are improving at faster rates than others (only noted if the state had a statistically significant change):

NAEP_Science_States

Source: www.nationsreportcard.gov

 

It seems that the gains made in fourth and eighth-grade scores erode by 12th-grade.  Some of this may be due to lack of access to engaging classes and curriculum that could draw students into STEM fields.

NAEP_Science_Teens

Source: http://www.amgeninspires.com/students-on-stem/

2015 NAEP Science scores show similar trends as math and reading tests, which emphasizes the question: How do we move the needle for 12th-graders, as well as continue to improve opportunities and achievement for all students?






July 31, 2015

Executive functioning, an emerging and important area of study

2015-07-30_14-03-24Last semester we had the pleasure of having David Ferrier, a doctoral student studying applied developmental psychology at George Mason University, as one of our policy research interns.

We enjoyed many cerebral discussions with David, who spent his time detailing what research says about executive functioning and its connection to critical thinking, specifically, and academic achievement, generally, in an upcoming research brief.

You can get a preview of what David means by executive functioning and why it’s so important in the latest issue of American School Board Journal. Read it here and then visit our Facebook page where we’ve shared a video of a University of Michigan researcher discussing what she discovered in her review of school-based interventions that target executive functioning.






November 27, 2013

The full story: How U.S. students compare internationally

With the 2012 PISA results set to be released on Tuesday you will probably hear a lot of doom and gloom about how the U.S. doesn’t fair well on international assessments. You’ll probably be bombarded with references to the 2009 PISA results showing that U.S. students ranked 24th and 19th in math and science respectively.

Such statistics are true but you should be warned such statistics don’t tell the whole truth. While PISA results should not be ignored  they only tell part of the story of how U.S. schools compare to schools around the world. There are a myriad of other indicators that are useful in comparing U.S. schools internationally. Yet, PISA results get all the headlines because of our mediocre performance especially in math and science. But when you take a broader look at how U.S. schools perform, you’ll see our schools compare more favorably to other countries than PISA results would suggest.

U.S. students compare well in reading

PISA’s math and science results often overlook the fact that U.S. 15-year olds fair much better on PISA’s reading assessment. Compared to the 64 other countries that participated in PISA just 9 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. in reading. The U.S. compares even better at the 4th grade level where just 5 of 57 participating countries performed significantly higher than the U.S. according to the 2011 PIRLS report.

U.S. students compare more favorably in science in the earlier grades

While U.S. 15-year olds rank among the middle of the pack on PISA’s science assessment, U.S. 4th and 8th graders compare much more favorably to their international peers. On the 2011 TIMSS assessment just 6 of 57 countries significantly outperformed U.S fourth graders. At the eighth grade level just 12 of 56 countries significantly outperformed the U.S.

U.S. 4th and 8th graders are gaining on the international leaders

It seems to be an all too well kept secret that our nation’s fourth graders score within the top 10 of countries in math. According to the 2011 TIMSS, just 8 countries significantly outperformed the U.S. on the 4th grade math assessment. Our eighth graders performed nearly as well by being outperformed by just 11 of 56 countries. Keep in mind, that Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Indiana were considered ‘counties’ for the purposes of this analysis and were among the 11 ‘countries’ that outperformed the U.S. so only 7 actual countries outperformed the U.S.

The U.S. has broken into the top 10 in math due to impressive gains over the past two decades. Since TIMSS was first administered in 1995 the scores for U.S. 4th graders improved by 23 points. Strong gains were also made during this time period by U.S. 8th graders whose scores improved by 17 points. The gains made at both grade levels are among the greatest gains made during this time period.

More work to be done

When taking a broader look at how the U.S. compares international the U.S. fairs much better than PISA results suggest. However, the results also show the U.S. has much more work to be done to perform among the world leaders. As the TIMSS results show, our schools are not only up for the challenge to thrust our schools to be among the world leaders but have already taken major strides to do so. – Jim Hull






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