The College Board released its 2014 SAT college-entrance test results today, and here are some highlights of the 2014 SAT math test:
1. Continuing an uninterrupted trend that dates back to at least 1972, high school boys outperformed girls on the 2014 SAT math test with an average score of 530 points compared to the average score of 499 for females, see top chart above. The statistically significant 31-point male advantage this year on the SAT math test is one point lower than the 32-point difference last year, and just slightly below the 34 point difference over the last two decades favoring boys. In terms of percentile ranking, the average test score for male high school students (530) represented the 55th percentile of all students. By comparison, the average female test score (499) was slightly below the 45th percentile ranking for all students (see top chart above).
In addition to average scores by gender, the College Board also reports the 2014 SAT math test results by gender for all scores between 200 to 800 in 10-point increments, and the male-female ratios for each of those 10-point increments are displayed in the bottom chart above. Here are some observations:
2. Male students outnumbered female students for all 2014 math SAT scores of 590 (73rd percentile) and above, and those outcomes are represented in the bottom chart above by all of the blue bars higher than the 1.0 Male:Female ratio (red line).
3. As SAT math scores increased by 10-point intervals from 590 to 800, the male-female ratio gradually increased, reaching a peak male-female ratio of slightly more than 2-to-1 for perfect test scores of 800. At the highest level of math performance on the SAT test this year, there were 203 males achieving perfect scores for every 100 females.
4. We can adjust for the fact that more young women (888,825) than men (783,570) took the SAT test in 2014, and compare the percentage of males who earned perfect scores of 800 points (1.3%) to the percentage of females with perfect scores (0.54%), which produces an adjusted male-female ratio of 2.41-to-1 (vs. the 2.03 unadjusted ratio) for students who had perfect 800-point scores.
5. For scores of 770 points and above on the 2014 math SAT, boys outnumbered girls by a ratio of 1.91-to-1 (22,586 to 11,802) and when adjusted for the differences in sample size, the male-female ratio was 2.17-to-1 (2.88% vs. 1.328%) for scores between 770-800.
One possible explanation for the fact that high school boys consistently score higher on average than girls on the math SAT test and outnumber girls by more than 2-to-1 for perfect scores, would be that high school boys are better students on average than high school girls and are better prepared in mathematics than their female classmates. But that explanation would be false, based on College Board data for students taking the 2013 SAT test (not yet available for 2014):
6. For SAT test-takers, high school girls had superior overall academic high school records compared to boys: females represented 56% of the students in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, 59% of the students graduating with an A+ grade point average were female, and high school girls graduated with a higher overall average GPA of 3.44 compared to a 3.30 average GPA for their male counterparts.
7. High school girls were over-represented in advanced AP/Honors math classes (54%) compared to boys (46%), and also in advanced AP/Honors science classes by 56% to 44%.
8. For those high school students taking four years of high school mathematics, girls were over-represented (52%) compared to boys (48%), and more of the students studying natural sciences for four years were female students (53%) than male (47%).
Bottom Line: Even though female high school students are better prepared academically on many different measures than their male classmates, both overall and for mathematics specifically, female high school students score significantly lower on the SAT math test, and the +30-point differences in test scores (and 10 point differences in average percentile rankings) favoring males has persisted for generations. At the high-end of math performance, high school males significantly outperformed their female peers on the 2014 SAT math test by a ratio of more than 2-1 for perfect and near-perfect scores, and that outcome has persisted for many decades.
And yet, despite the persistent, statistically significant differences in math performance by gender on the math SAT test that have continued for generations, we hear statements like this: “There just aren’t gender differences anymore in math performance,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde, “So parents and teachers need to revise their thoughts about this. Stereotypes are very, very resistant to change, but as a scientist I have to challenge them with data.”
Given the significant and persistent gender differences in SAT math test scores that have persisted over many generations, the scientific data about gender differences in math performance would seem to present a serious challenge to Professor Hyde’s frequent claims that there are no gender differences in math performance.
Further, the fact that women are underrepresented in STEM occupations and hold only 26% of STEM jobs according to a 2013 Department of Commerce report certainly isn’t because female students are being discouraged from studying math and science in high school. In fact, the evidence shows that females are excelling in math and science in high school – they outnumber males in AP/Honors math and science courses, and are more likely than their male counterparts to take four years of math and science.
Further, compared to boys, high school girls get better grades on average, and are far more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their high school classes, and are much more likely than boys to attend and graduate from college and go on to graduate schools. By all objective measures, girls have essentially all of the necessary ingredients that should result in greater representation in STEM fields like engineering and computer science except perhaps for one: a huge, statistically significant and persistent 30-point gender gap (and a 10 percentile gender gap) on the SAT math test in favor of boys that has persisted for more than 40 years. If there are some inherent gender differences for mathematical ability, as the huge and persistent gender differences for the math SAT test suggests, closing the STEM gender degree and job gaps may be a futile attempt in socially engineering an unnatural and unachievable outcome.