The notion that girls aren't as good at math as boys is unfounded, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests in every grade, from second through 11th, though there is evidence of slightly greater variability in test scores for boys.
The study, funded by the National Science Foundation and published today in Science magazine, compares the performances of 7 million students from 10 states. It uses data from the annual math tests required by the No Child Left Behind legislation.
Researchers also looked at SAT results, where boys usually outperform girls in math—in 2007 boys scored an average of 533 on the math section of the SAT, while girls averaged 499. The study concludes that since more girls take the test—100,000 more in 2007—the scores cannot be validly compared. The researchers note that on the ACT, which has a similar gender gap, the differences disappeared when state officials in Colorado and Illinois required that all students take the test.
The findings come three years after Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, sparked a heated debate by questioning women's "intrinsic aptitude" in science and engineering. Part of why he got into trouble was because he didn't have strong evidence to back up his musings. For all the grumbling about standardized tests, they do provide some excellent data.