Study Shows Elementary School Teachers’ Unconscious Biases Contribute to Gender Gap in Math

Oct 25, 2016 | Gilbert

When children are young, math scores are generally equal across the sexes, with girls often having the higher scores when a disparity exists. Yet by the time those same children reach high school and college, girls are taking fewer and less-challenging math classes, with the result being that fewer women are entering into STEM and other math-based careers. A recent study conducted by Edith Sand and Victor Lavy at Tel Aviv University reveals that unconscious biases among elementary school teachers may be contributing to this disparity.


The study looked at 3000 6th grade students in Israel, who were given a math test which was graded by their regular teachers - teachers who knew the identity, and gender, of the test-takers. Then those same tests were re-graded by independent teachers who did not know the sexes of the test-takers. The results showed that the teachers who did not know the students were more likely to have given the girls grades equal or higher to that of the boys, while the teachers familiar with the students gave the girls lower test scores than they deserved.


Those same students were followed by the researchers until they reached high school, and the study found that the girls who had unfairly been given lower grades in elementary school were less likely to take challenging math courses in high school, and most did not intend to pursue higher education in math fields. The conclusion was that when girls are told that they are not good at math, they tend to take that conclusion to heart and give up on math-based fields, despite the fact that many of them originally had higher actual grades than their male counterparts.


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