AP Test Shows Wide Gender Gap in Computer Science, Physics

Boys outnumber girls by more than 4 to 1 among computer science test takers.

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During the past week, tech and education writers have been talking about data showing that the gender gap in the tech world is evident even in high school.

They cite Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech, who recently broke down the 2013 Advanced Placement exams and found that in three states (Mississippi, Montana, and Wyoming), zero girls took the AP computer science test. Even in the state where girls are best represented among computer science test-takers, Tennessee, girls only took 29 percent of the exams.

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However, even those statistics don't quite show the striking degree to which girls are underrepresented among test-takers not only in computer science but in nearly all STEM fields. U.S. News broke down the numbers and found not only that boys outnumber girls by more than 4 to 1 among computer science test-takers, but by more than 2.5 to 1 on Physics C tests, which test specialized fields of physics. Boys also outnumber girls by nearly 2 to 1 among test-takers in the more general Physics B, and by nearly 1.5 to 1 on the Calculus BC exam.

The chart below shows the ratio of boy to girl test-takers across AP exam subjects. In subjects whose bars do not reach the orange line, girls outnumber boys. In subjects where the bar extends past the orange line, boys outnumber girls.

(Danielle Kurtzleben/USNWR; Source: College Board)

It's not that girls are behind altogether; to the contrary, they're ahead of their male counterparts when it comes to taking these college-level tests, as the dark blue bar in the above chart shows. Nearly 2.1 million girls took AP tests in 2013, while only 1.75 million boys did.

[ALSO: Black, Latino Students Opting Out of AP Exams]

Girls tended to outnumber boys in most languages, English literature, and art-related fields. Girls also outnumbered boys in two science fields: biology and environmental science.

As far as the computer science test, said a spokeswoman for the College Board, the results are unsurprising.

"We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson's findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students," spokeswoman Deborah Davis told EdWeek.

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