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Low math confidence discourages female students from pursuing STEM disciplines

Science Magazine – Maggie Kuo

“Female college students are 1.5 times more likely than their male counterparts to leave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) after taking the first course in the calculus series, new research finds. The study, published last week in PLOS ONE, supports what many educators have observed and earlier studies have documented: A lack of confidence in mathematical ability, not mathematical capability itself, is a major factor in dissuading female students from pursuing STEM. The researchers followed 2266 undergraduate students at 129 2- and 4-year colleges and universities who were enrolled in Calculus I, the first course in a calculus series that is often a prerequisite for studying STEM disciplines in the United States. Overall, students were more likely to continue with calculus if they were planning for careers in engineering, had good instructors, or had previously scored well on math SAT and ACT standardized tests, the researchers found. However, when comparing students with the same background, experience, and plans, female students were on average 1.5 times more likely than males to stop studying calculus, “effectively choosing to exit the STEM pipeline,” the authors write.”(more)

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