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High School Preparation

High school preparation is associated with the math and science coursework taken in high school that helps prepare students to pursue an engineering degree. The gender gap in earned high school math and science credits closed in 2009. Girls now earn approximately the same amount of course credits as boys.

title High School Preparation - high school preparation
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, adolescent girls still represent a lower proportion of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams in STEM-related subjects, including advanced calculus (Calculus BC), physics, and computer science. Students taking AP exams are typically interested in either obtaining college credit for those courses or 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.

Percent of Students Who Took AP Math and Science Exams by Gender in 2021
Source: Collage Board (2021). AP Summary Report. https://secure-media.collegeboard.org/digitalServices/pdf/research/2021/2021-ap-program-summary-report.pdf

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results can serve as another measurement for understanding high school preparation. The NAEP is a U.S. measurement representing elementary and secondary students’ academic achievement in various subjects. In 2018, NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) responses showed a lower percentage of girls (21%) than boys (30%) in eighth grade had taken or were taking an engineering class.

Percent of Students Taking Engineering
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2014 and 2018.

In 2019, boys and girls had similar average NAEP mathematics scores at all three grade levels (4th, 8th, and 12th grades).

Average NAEP Math Scores
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2019 Mathematics Assessments.

Additionally, boys scored slightly higher than girls in the NAEP science scores in the 8th and 12th grades. Girls’ average NAEP science scores in fourth grade decreased from 2015 to 2019 and remained comparably the same in the 8th, and 12th grades.

Average NAEP Science Scores
U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2015 and 2019 Science Assessment.

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.

Eight Grade NAEP-TEL Scores by Gender
Source: 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.

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.

NAEP Math Scores Above Proficient Level
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2005, 2009, 2013, 2015, and 2019 Mathematics Assessments.

The NAEP survey issued in 2014 and 2018 found that most eighth-grade students believe they can do technology and engineering-related activities. Boys’ responses slightly decreased from 2014 to 2018, with 52% of boys stating that they felt that they could do technology and engineering-related activities. Meanwhile, the percentage of girls who believed they could do technology and engineering-related activities increased from 48% to 54%. However, there was also a slight increase in the percentage of girls who stated that they could not do technology and engineering-related activities, from 2% to 4%.

Eighth Grade Engineering Confidence Index
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2014 and 2018.

In comparing racial/ethnic category and gender, eighth-grade girls scored higher or similar than their male counterparts on the NAEP-TEL assessment in 2018. However, American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, and Hispanic girls scored lower than their Asian/Pacific Islander and White counterparts.

Eight Grade NAEP-TEL Scores by Gender and Race
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2018 Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment.

Globally, girls slightly outperformed boys in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessment. In contrast, boys slightly outperformed girls in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

International Math and Science Scores
Sources: 1. International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), 2019.
2. OECD, PISA 2018 Database, Tables II.B1.7.1, II.B1.7.3, and II.B1.7.5.

Finally, while a higher proportion of U.S. girls (49.1%) than boys (30.7%) who took the 2018 PISA assessment expressed an interest in having a science-related career by 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. PISA results also show a similar gendered pattern among top performers or students who achieved a high level on either math or science assessment.

Percentage of U.S. Students Who Expect to Work as Science Professionals
Source: PISA 2018 Results, Annex B1.8 Results (tables): Do boys and girls differ in their attitudes towards school and learning? Tables II.B1.8.22, and Tables II.B1.8.23,

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