College Board did its state and national SAT data dump today, releasing its 2013 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness.
There is some cool info there. As with most things that are measured annually, year-to-year changes are small, either ultimately insignificant in the long-term or, if they do build up to something, are incremental.
So there’s nothing groundbreaking there.
But I poked around just to see what I could find. Here’s something interesting: there is a persistent gender gap on math scores, which is decreasing very, very slowly. Male students this year averaged 32 points higher than female students nationwide.
There’s a small gender gap on reading scores as well, with male students scoring five points higher than female students each of the past three years.
On the writing section, which has only been around for a few years, female students have beaten male students by 11 to 14 points each year.
Here are the numbers, according to the College Board report:
Okay, so here’s a chart showing the reading scores over time:
Here’s the math chart:
So the real question is, who cares? Or rather, why should we care or pay attention? Without talking about politics of gender and the various questions and issues of privilege and leaning in and everything else, the reason this interests me is that these gaps are persistent.
The gaps are small — a 30-point difference on the average math score? Out of an 800-point section? — but they remain over time, which is striking.
Obviously, there are the general trends we should look at. I mean, check out those slowly, steadily increasing math scores!
And the reading gap, small and persistent, does fluctuate a lot:
But check out the math gap:
So male students’ scores have slowly lost their edge over female students’ scores over time, which is cool if you’re thinking about progress on gender issues. But they’re slow to change, and that gap is worth a look.
Now, I am not particularly well-read in this. There are many possible reasons and explanations for this. I’m not here to provide analysis, just to point out this trend that I’ve seen.
And I’m particularly interested because the SAT is, generally, taken by students who are looking to go to college. The report shows many other correlations we should take note of, such as the very important ones between race/scores and family income/scores. But, in general, selection is such that these results are not just showing how all students are doing; this doesn’t represent the population of male and female students. These numbers represent male and female students who, generally speaking, are actively pursuing college to the point of taking the standardized test usually considered a requisite for college admissions.
And then there’s something else.
The College Board data includes breakdowns of academic information.
According to the national report, female students are doing better than male students in terms of grades. They outnumber male students in the highest and second-highest tenths of academic rankings. As for GPAs, female students make up the majority of A+, A, A-, and B students. Male students outnumber female students at the C-level and below; male students make up the majority of the lower academic rankings.
And there is, intuitively, a correlation between mean SAT scores and academic ranking and grade point average.
Per the College Board report:
So female students make up the majority of the top academic scores, while male students make up the majority of the lower academic scores.
And mirroring the relatively recent trend of having more undergraduate women than men, more female students took the SATs: 776,092 male students took them, while 883,955 female students did.
Which is very, very important. If 13% more female students are taking the SATs than male students, then when it comes to sheer numbers, female students should make up the majority in many categories. So if 56 percent of the highest-tenth ranking students are female, and 44 percent are male, that doesn’t necessarily mean women are just doing better than men, it can also reflect the fact that there are more women.
But why do I think that these numbers show women are doing better academically, and it’s not just a reflection of their sheer numbers? Because it appears to be not be distributed evenly: women make up the majority at the higher levels, not the lower levels, so the distribution of male and female students is not just even.
Alright, so more female students are taking the SATs, and more female students are going to college. (I’m too lazy to Google, but the number of total degree-holders in the U.S. still tilts slightly in the male students’ favor, but that’s set to even out soon. From what I can recall off the top of my head. Something like just over 30% for each.) And female students are making up the top academic ranks.
They’re also appear to be taking the highest level of English/Language Arts and Math courses.
Here is a screenshot of the College Board’s national table:
So for AP and honors courses in English and Language Arts, 61 percent of respondents were female. For AP and Honors Courses in Mathematics, 54 percent of respondents were female.
Female students also make up (small) majorities for years of study, but those numbers are close. In this case I’m less interested in it because it’s still probably not distributed evenly across all the categories for years of study, but it’s also not immediately obvious that they’re not. (Women are the majority for every category under years of study for Math and nearly every category for English and Language Arts. So that doesn’t scream imbalance. Whereas earlier the rankings and GPA did show an imbalance, with women making up the majority at the top and minority at the bottom.)
And it is noteworthy when examining AP and honors courses, often the highest level of study at the high school level.
Okay, interesting. So it looks like, from my non-expert and very rough look at the numbers, that there are more female students than male students, female students are doing better academically, and they are taking the more challenging math and English classes in greater numbers.
But the male students are, on average, scoring just a little higher on the reading section every year and continue to score about 30 points higher on the math section. Female students outscore male students on the writing section.
Again, I’m not here to do any real analysis, I’m not prepared for any of that and I’m not in any position to do that. And it’s true that these are small, but their persistence intrigues me. These are numbers that really struck me, so I figured I’d share. And the written report [pdf] and press release [pdf] discuss plenty of other issues, but don’t talk about gender. And I thought it was worth pointing out, even if it’s not a huge gap and there are possible explanations for it.