This wasn’t possible for me when I was in high school. I was that annoying math student who would look up from doing the homework to correct the teacher’s solution on the board. The one who complained that Algebra and Precalc and Algebra II covered too much of the same territory, and if the district was going to offer an accelerated math program, they should accelerate it, not just have a bunch of us kids skip one year in junior high then plod on at the same pace as everyone else.
Yes, I was annoying. I was also very hard to underestimate when it came to math. Or maybe I was still underestimated anyway. I certainly was by college, and given these findings, it wouldn’t be at all out of the ordinary.
The researchers analyzed numbers from the National Center of Education Statistics that represented roughly 15,000 students across the country as well as teacher surveys in which math teachers were asked to assess individual students. Teachers were asked to express whether they felt their math class was too easy, too hard or appropriate for each student. By marrying the data, Riegle-Crumb and Humphries were able to determine whether the teacher’s attitude and opinion of each student was in line with the students’ actual scores.
The results were anything but assuring.
There was a clear divide between teachers’ positive assessment of their students’ abilities and their actual scores. (Read: teachers said they were doing well when really, not so much). But more upsetting was that the converse was true for white female students: Their math teachers consistently reported that they were doing more poorly in their classes than they really were.
Everyone was rated as doing better than they were except white girls. Minority students of any gender were rated as unrealistically high as were white boys.
That’s going to have two effects. First, it’s going to make math unrewarding for these girls. No matter how well they perform, they’re not going to have their full competence recognized. That’s going to lead (potentially to a healthy rebellion but more likely) to the second consequence: These girls also aren’t going to believe they’re as good as they really are at math.
If they don’t like it because the normal rewards are stripped from it and they don’t think they’re any good at it, it’s very little wonder that these girls are choosing fields of study and careers where they don’t need to use math. One more leak in the pipeline diagnosed.