Girls Outperforming Boys in Honors Precalculus

Stunned by the rumors flying around select households in my school’s local neighborhoods, I reached out through a parent intermediary earlier this semester to meet with parent representatives in hopes of quelling the raging tornado of troubles.  The meeting went well, the parties felt heard, and I gleaned deeper insight into parental concerns.

One of the concerns centered on gender, which was surprising in some aspects, and enlightening in others.  Surprising, in that I very much strive to be gender neutral in my outlook and expectations for student achievement.  Yet select parents of daughters felt that I did not know how best to teach their daughters; I presume their position derived from their daughters’ perceptions of my classroom management where I admonish students for talking when I am lecturing, which occurs infrequently as a percentage of classroom time. Ironically, another complaint vector centers on my use of the flipped classroom where students engage with the content and attempt homework before I lecture on the topic.  Much of classroom time consists of students working together in groups to complete homework exercises so they may present them to the class.  Yet, when I do provide direct instruction in class, some students do not take the opportunity to listen intently; ergo, the discipline, and the perception of meanness, which grew with every behavioral intervention.

While I recognize the emotional, social, and behavioral distinctions among my students, they rarely were a factor in my classroom until I started teaching honors precalculus this year.  Suddenly one or two students were crying during and after assessments, especially if they felt as if they did not score exceedingly well.  During discussions with coworkers, I learned of an extremely cohesive group of sophomore girls who seemed to serve as the central nervous system for my sophomore students, with the emphasis on nerves.  As they rarely experienced truly challenging work in prior mathematics courses, even not so challenging word problems from my perspective, they reeled at my expectations.  When they reeled, I suffered as I felt the time-delayed anger of their parents via complaints to my assistant principal of instruction (API).  Like the phases of the moon, when unit tests, or challenging quizzes loomed, student worries grew until they burst outwards via tears and group hugs.  None of the assessments phased my male students, or even junior or senior girls.  Yet, they harkened gloom for the sophomore girls.

Recent Unit Assessment Outcomes

Test Scores by Gender - Top 25

Notwithstanding the emotional roller coaster, for me as well as for certain sophomore girls, their scores on the assessments typically were quite high, and disproportionate to their representation in my course.  In fact, over time, it became clear that I needed to mine my assessment data to see how differing segments of students fared.  As I analyzed the data, developing statistics, I noticed that, on average, girls were outperforming boys in my honors precalculus course.  The data in the table support this statement.  It is from a recent test that included conic sections and limits, an interesting amalgam for sure.  As one can see, more girls than boys scored in the top ten by a 60% – 40% split, which contrasts with their 46% – 54% representation split in the course.

Semester 1 Outcomes

When comparing outcomes from first semester, as measured by letter grades (A through F), girls disproportionately scored higher than boys as the  figures below reveal.

Letter Grade Breakdown by Gender - All

This figure contrasts the representation of female students in three sections of the course at 46% with the 52% of A grades and 49% of B grades awarded to female students.

Letter Grade Breakdown by P6 Females

The next figure zeros in on my sixth period where female students represent twenty percent of the three section student population, yet received thirty-three percent of A letter grades and twenty-three percent of B letter grades; no sixth period female student received lower than a B- in the course first semester.

Letter Grade Breakdown by P6 Gender

This last figure shows that while female students in sixth period represented fifty-two percent of students in sixth period, they obtained sixty-four percent of the As in the course and 48% of the Bs.

Girls certainly have more hurdles than boys when it comes to achieving in mathematics, as noted in the OECD’s 2015 report: The ABC of Gender
Equality in Education – Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, developed from PISA 2012 results.  However, I will do everything in my power to ensure they are supported in my classroom, and achieve at their highest potential.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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