Thursday, July 14, 2016

Women's Lower Math Confidence, Not Lower Math Ability, Causing Women To Switch Out Of STEM Degrees At Higher Rate Than Men

From "Calculus factors women out of STEM degrees, researchers find" on ScienceBlog.
Both men and women experience a loss of confidence in their math skills at a similar rate in Calc I, says co-author Jess Ellis, an assistant professor of mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences. The problem, says co-author Bailey Fosdick, an assistant professor of statistics, is that women arrive with lower math confidence to begin with. “When women are leaving, it is because they don’t think they can do it” – not because they can’t do it – she says.
Students across the country were asked about their interest in and intention to pursue a STEM degree, their test scores, preparation, learning experience, plans and backgrounds – before taking Calculus I and after. A student was considered to “persist” in the STEM track if they went on to take Calculus II.
Of the students who switched out after Calculus I, when asked why they decided against taking Calculus II, most of the possible explanations fell fairly equally across the genders (too many classes, not needed for major, etc.) – except for one: "I do not believe I understand the ideas of Calculus I well enough to take Calculus II." Of those who had been planning to major in a STEM area, 14 percent of men who switched out listed this as a reason; 35 percent of women did. But fewer than one in five of the departing students of either gender reported that their Calc I grade was actually too low to continue.

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