DURHAM, N.C. -- A study that examined 30 years of standardized test data from the very highest-scoring seventh graders has found that performance differences between boys and girls have narrowed considerably, but boys still outnumber girls by more than about 3-to-1 at extremely high levels of math ability and scientific reasoning.
At the same time, girls slightly outnumber boys at extremely high levels of verbal reasoning and writing ability.
Except for the differences at these highest levels of performance, boys and girls are essentially the same at all other levels of performance.
The findings come from a study performed by Duke University's Talent Identification Program, which relies on SAT and ACT tests administered to the top 5 percent of 7th graders to identify gifted students and nurture their intellectual talents. There were more than 1.6 million such students in this study.
Researchers Jonathan Wai, Megan Cacchio, Martha Putallaz and Matthew C. Makel focused in particular on gifted seventh graders who scored 700 or above on the SAT's math or verbal tests, which is higher than most high school juniors score.
Among these students at the very top of the performance curve, the differences in verbal and mathematical performance have maintained a persistent gender gap over the last 15 years, said Jonathan Wai, a post-doctoral research associate at Duke TIP, and lead author on a paper appearing in the July/August issue of the journal Intelligence.
The ratio of 7th graders scoring 700 or above on the SAT-math was about 13 boys to 1 girl when it was measured in a landmark study 30 years ago, but that ratio dropped dramatically in the 1990s, Wai said. Since 1995, the gap has remained steady at about 4 boys to 1 girl.
The top scores on scientific reasoning, a relatively new section of the ACT that was not included in the earlier study, show a similar ratio of boys to girls.
Much has be
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