Although girls have been outperforming boys in academic benchmarks and grades, when it comes to standardized tests they continue to lag behind male students, The New York Times reports. This lag is most obvious when it comes to admission to New York City's 8 specialized high schools which use the results of a standardized test as their sole admissions criteria where boys outnumber girls, sometimes substantially.
Student bodies of the the two high schools that focus on mathematics, technology and science – Stuyvesant in Manhattan and Bronx Science – are 60% male, while at the new High School for Mathematics, Science and engineering at City College, boys make up 67% of total students.
While studies suggest that girls perform as well as boys in math and science classes in high school, their participation in those fields drops off in college and ultimately in careers, a phenomenon that the White House, with its Council on Women and Girls, and the National Science Foundation have tried to reverse.
The fact that girls are underrepresented in New York's top high schools, which tend to be focused on math and science, and which have more than a dozen Nobel laureates among their alumni, worries some academics who see the schools as prime breeding grounds for future scientists and engineers.
This isn't the first time that the demographics of the city's top schools have made news. The racial makeup of the schools has been a controversy for years, as African Americans and Latinos are greatly underrepresented in the elite high schools. This year only 5% of the admitted students are African-American and 7% are Hispanic.
Minority advocates in the city have led a long – and so far unsuccessful – battle to change the admissions criteria used by the schools such as encouraging them to take into account middle school grades, among other proposals.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer in the city's Education Department, said the eight specialized-test schools represented just a portion of the city's best schools, so there was a flaw in studying gender disparities solely in those eight schools. "These are not the best schools in the city," he said of the eight specialized schools. "They are among the best schools in the city."
He said that at the highest echelons of test-takers, girls scored as well as boys, but that overall, fewer of the strongest female students were taking the exam.
He said the answer to the question of why fewer girls take the standardized exams could go a long way to addressing the problem of gender disparity in technology, the sciences and mathematics.