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Science Says It's Your Teachers' Fault if You're Bad in Math

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NPR recently reported that an Israeli study showed girls scored higher than boys in math when their genders were hidden from their teachers. Although the gender bias may be subconscious and not overt, the facts reveal a sexist undertone taken on by teachers when grading.

"When the students were in sixth grade, the researchers got two sets of math test sco​res. One set of scores were given by the classroom teachers, who obviously knew the children whom they were grading," NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam said. "The second set of scores were from external teachers who did not know if the children they were grading were either boys or girls. So the external teachers were blind to the gender of the children."

The teachers who knew the genders of the students gave the girls lower grades than the external graders who did not know the students' genders. Accordingly, this suggests a bias against the girls. Now, you may say that's just middle school. Well, the study went even further and followed the children from sixth grade into high school. The stigma surrounding receiving lower grades in sixth grade discouraged the girls from pursuing more complex math and science classes in high school. While the girls were discouraged, the study revealed an opposite effect on the boys who enrolled in harder, more advanced classes.
frustrated girl gifAnother interesting observation was family background. Female students who had a mother and a father with the same education level were less likely to be affected by this bias. On the other hand, female students who had a mother who had less education than the father were more likely to be affected.

Since all the teachers in the sixth grade classroom were women, NPR suggests that the bias is unconscious and intertwined into society. This study only accounted for one country (Israel), but it would be interesting to conduct this study around the world.

As a sophomore in college, I have never been great at math. From honors geometry to basic pre-calculus, I have always dreaded typing on my clunky calculator and having pencil smeared on the back of my hand. My battle with equations started as early as primary school when we learned multiplication tables. I don't know whether I hate math and this affects my performance, or rather that I am simply not well-versed in it.

If you asked my parents, they would say I have no confidence, and I am actually good at math. Both of my parents are educated almost to the same degree, my mom has a doctorate while my father does not. They believe I can be anything from the president of the United States to a lawyer to an investment banker.
proud parent gifDespite my battles with math, I have always kept my grades up and worked extra hard in those math classes. But it makes me wonder, were the grades I received on those page-long proofs in geometry biased against who I was? I always thought math was very cut and dry: 2 + 2 = 4. However, maybe it isn't. And that's a major problem.

As a girl, I shouldn't be forced to study STEM-related studies if I am truly not interested in it. However, I should not be graded lower on a math test just because of an unconscious bias against my gender. I have never experienced lack of opportunities due to my gender. There were several math teams and clubs I could have joined, multiple science fairs I could have enrolled in, but I did not join or enroll. My grades and teachers' responses in those according classes definitely influenced those decisions.

Before reading this study, I always thought I just wasn't "good at math." Now, I am wondering if maybe I am good at math but was never given the credit where it was due.
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