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ASD science scores show gender gap

Girls in the Ashland School District were almost twice as likely to fail the state science test last academic year as boys were, according to test scores released to the school board recently.

Districtwide, 23.3 percent of girls and 12.5 percent of boys didn't meet state standards on the science test in 2009-10. The year before, the percentages were 24 and 17.1, respectively, meaning boys have since shown improvement but girls have stayed about the same.

The district's figures echo a national trend, but are nonetheless concerning, said Superintendent Juli Di Chiro.

"It's not just here — it's happening everywhere in science and math," she said. "Helman (Elementary School) has a program that's designed to introduce more science concepts to girls and we need to keep doing those kinds of things."

The gender gap for the 2009-10 academic year was especially wide at Bellview Elementary School, where 35.7 percent of girls and fewer than 5 percent of boys failed the science test, and at Ashland High School, where 31.3 percent of girls and 19.7 percent of boys didn't pass.

Even at Helman, which began the Soroptimist Strong Girls Strong Women program in the 2008-09 school year to help girls master science concepts, test scores slipped last academic year. In the 2008-09 school year, fewer than 5 percent of girls and boys didn't meet state standards on the science test. In the 2009-10 school year, 18.2 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys didn't pass the test.

Walker Elementary was the only school in the district where more girls passed the science test than boys. At Walker, 16.7 girls and 17.6 percent of boys didn't meet state standards on the test.

Also failing the test were 16.7 percent of girls and 7.8 percent of boys at Ashland Middle School, and 16.7 percent of girls and fewer than 5 percent of boys at John Muir School.

The district's scores in English and math last academic year didn't show a large gender gap. Districtwide, 13.8 percent of girls and 12.5 percent of boys didn't meet state standards in math, while 8.4 percent of girls and 11.5 percent of boys didn't meet state standards in English.

School board member Eva Skuratowicz, a sociologist, said she is especially troubled by the science test results.

"I find this concerning," said Skuratowicz, a Southern Oregon University sociology professor who studies gender. "It shouldn't happen. It's something that I think, as a society, we need to look at more closely. We need to look at how we encourage girls in science."

Skuratowicz said research suggests there's no genetic reason for the gender gap — rather, it is due largely to cultural factors. Boys, for example, are encouraged by society to engage in play that teaches engineering or physics concepts, she said.

"It's definitely a cultural thing," Skuratowicz said. "Girls are not as encouraged in science. They often don't have the manipulative exposure that boys do."

The district should institute more programs like the one at Helman to introduce girls to more science concepts, she said.

Nationwide, girls tend to perform about as well as boys on science tests in early grades, but then often perform lower by the time they reach high school, Skuratowicz said.

"It's such a shame, because science is very important for job skills," she said.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.