Small STEM Gaps In K-12 Education: Why I Barely Glance at Male/Female Results
When new assessment results come out, I barely glance at how we’re serving female students and male students, even as I’m hurrying to see what progress Kentucky delivered (or failed to deliver) for other groups. This post offers a quick look at why gender isn’t at the top of my equity concerns in Kentucky P-12 education.
On 2019 KPREP math and science assessments, our schools didn’t produce identical scores for female and male students, but they got pretty close, with slight male leads on two tests and small female leads on four.
In contrast, the 2019 assessments showed yawning gaps in how our schools deliver for African American and White (Non-Hispanic) students, and what they deliver students who are eligible and ineligible for free or reduced-price meals. With sad, disturbing consistency, our results are weaker for African American and low-income students than for their classmates: the charts below only show one gap of less than 20 points.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress confirms this sense that our most important work to create schools where all students flourish does not need to put gender in the main spotlight. Here’s a smaller chart showing the most recent differences in how we are educating different groups of learners.
These results certainly do not guarantee that our schools are doing equally well at building on the strengths of female and male students. In particular, there’s lots of room to explore how well we’re building up the capacities we don’t test, like collaboration, oral communication, designing investigations, and solving substantive problems.
However, results do show that on the math and science knowledge and skills we do assess, we’re moving female and male students to similar places, while not getting close to that for other groups. And they show why gender is not on my short list of issues to check when Kentucky gets new K-12 evidence on how we are equipping our rising generation to contribute to the work and life of our commonwealth.
Finally, our small gender gaps do not mean that we’re making the STEM progress we need for either female or male students. In recent years, Kentucky has seen few gains in our assessed math and science results in recent years. Our rankings among the 50 states have slipped in on NAEP math and science tests over the last decade. It’s time for big, bold action in all our communities, supported by major state resource upgrades like those proposed in the Prichard Committee’s Big Bold Ask.