The math and science coursework taken in high school helps prepare students to pursue an engineering degree. The gender gap in earned high school math and science credits has shrunk over the past few decades, with girls earning approximately the same amount of course credits as boys.
Source: Nord, C., Roey, S., Perkins, R., Lyons, M., Lemanski, N., Brown, J., and Schuknecht, J. (2011). The Nation’s Report Card: America’s High School Graduates (NCES 2011-462). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
However, fewer girls than boys are taking Advanced Placement exams in STEM-related subject areas, including calculus, physics, and computer science. Students that take Advancement Placement exams are typically interested in either obtaining college credit for those courses or in better preparing themselves for college. Lower rates of AP exams in math and science among girls may indicate a lack of interest in pursuing a STEM degree in college.
Source: The College Board, 2019 Program Summary Report.
In 2013, a higher proportion of high school girls than boys enrolled in AP/IB or advanced biology courses while a higher proportion of boys than girls enrolled in AP/IB or advanced physics courses.
High School Science Course-Taking, by Gender, 2013
Among high school completers in 2013, the percentage of girls enrolled in Calculus or higher math course as their highest mathematics course in high school was similar to that of boys.
Highest-level Mathematics course enrollment of high school completers, by Gender, 2013
On average, ninth-grade boys earned about 1.4 credits in engineering and technology compared to girls who on average earned 1 credit in the same subjects in 2009. Further in that same year, about 21.1% of ninth-grade males earned any credit in engineering and technology in contrast to only 8.3% of females earning any engineering and technology credits.
Percentage of students that earned any credit in technology-related courses, by Gender, Fall 2009 ninth-graders
A lower percentage of girls (21%) than boys (30%) among 2018 eighth-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) technology and engineering literacy (TEL) participants responded that they had taken or were taking an engineering class.
Percentage of NAEP TEL Eighth-grade Participants Taking or Who Took Engineering, by Gender, 2014 and 2018
In 2019, boys and girls had similar average NAEP mathematics scores at all three grade levels (4th, 8th, and 12th grades).
Boys have a slight advantage on the average NAEP science scores at the 8th and 12th grades, but girls’ average NAEP science scores increased from 2009 to 2015 in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades.
Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Science Scores, by Gender and Grade Level, 2009 and 2015
On average, eighth-grade girls not only scored slightly higher than their male counterparts on the 2014 and 2018 NAEP TEL assessments, but their average TEL scores significantly increased from 2014 to 2018.
Eighth-grade Average NAEP technology and engineering literacy (TEL) scores, by Gender, 2014 and 2018
Over selected years between 2005 and 2019, the proportion of boys who scored at or above proficiency level in the NAEP mathematics assessment was slightly above the proportion of girls who achieved the same feat.
An NAEP survey issued in 2014 and 2018 found that the majority of eighth grade students believe that they can do technology- and engineering-related activities. Boys’ responses seemed to stay the same from 2014 to 2018, with 53% of boys stating that they felt that they can do technology- and engineering-related activities. Meanwhile, the percentage of girls who believed they can do technology- and engineering-related activities increased from 49% to 53%. However, there was also a slight increase in the percentage of girls who stated that they can’t do technology- and engineering-related activities, from 2% to 3%.
Eighth-grade NAEP technology and engineering literacy (TEL) confidence index, by Gender, 2014 and 2018
In 2014, among each racial/ethnic category, eighth-grade girls scored higher or similarly than their male counterparts on the NAEP technology and engineering literacy assessment.
Average scores of 8th graders on main NAEP technology and engineering literacy assessment, by Gender and Race/Ethnicity, 2014
While boys scored higher than girls on PISA 2018 math and science assessments, girls outperformed boys in the TIMSS 2019 grade 8 math and science assessments .
While a higher proportion of girls (49.1%) than boys (30.7%) who took PISA assessment expect to have a science-related career by the age of 30, almost three times as many boys indicated they expected to have a science and engineering profession compared to girls. Most girls expressed that they expected to work in a health profession. A similar gendered pattern is also observed among top performers, or students who achieved a high level on either math or science assessment.
- McFarland et al. (2019). The Condition of Education 2019 (NCES 2019-144). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2019144.
- National Science Board. 2018. Science and Engineering Indicators 2018. NSB-2018-1. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation. Available at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/indicators/.
- The College Board. 2019. 2019 Program Summary Report.
- U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2014 and 2018 Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessments. Retrieved from: https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/tel/results/gaps/