Female students and students of color in elementary and middle schools are bridging the gap in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, when compared to their white male peers.
According to the most recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam, girls in the fourth grade are now performing on par with boys in that subject, and scores overall have increased an average four percentage points since the last time the test was administered, in 2009.
Though black and Hispanic fourth-graders still lag behind their white and Asian counterparts, scoring an average 33 and 27 points lower on the science test, respectively, those numbers actually suggest improvement. The score gaps have decreased by three points for black students and five points for Hispanics since 2009.
“Achievement gaps are narrowing because all students are improving,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics. “Minority students and girls are making greater gains to narrow these gaps. This is exactly what we like to see: all students improving, but students at the bottom of the distribution making faster gains.”
The changes are due, in part, to the Obama administration’s push for STEM education, as well as to adapting curricula to better suit young learners of all types. Educational research suggests that 83% of learning occurs visually, while 17% develops through use of the other four senses: hearing (11%), smell (3.5%), taste (1%), and touch (1.5%). Science, in particular, is a hands-on subject that can make use of all five senses.
“Ultimately credit for the progress that’s been made goes to students, teachers and families,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John King Jr. “And it’s their hard work that’s producing the gains in science performance.”
Unfortunately, similar progress remains yet to be seen in the STEM workforce, where demographics have remained largely unchanged since 2001. However, previous reports suggest that half of all workers in STEM fields are now approaching retirement, which may eventually leave more open opportunities for the young generations engaged in today’s burgeoning STEM education system.