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Topic: [ncsm-members] High-stakes exams put female students at disadvantage
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] High-stakes exams put female students at disadvantage
Posted: Oct 30, 2017 7:58 PM
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From STANFORD - Graduate School of Education, Friday, Octboer 27,
2017. SEE
High-stakes exams can put female students at a disadvantage, Stanford
researcher finds

By Carrie Spector

A new study suggests that women are more heavily influenced than men
by test anxiety, and points to ways to help close the gender gap.

Research has long shown that women who enter college intending to
pursue a career in science abandon that path more frequently than
their male peers, with many citing poor grades and large gateway
classes as reasons for their declining interest. To what extent do
these women fall behind because of the way science is taught and

A new study of students in introductory biology courses finds that
women overall performed worse than men on high-stakes exams but
better on other types of assessments, such as lab work and written
assignments. The study also shows that the anxiety of taking an exam
has a more significant impact on women's grades than it does for men.

"It was striking," said Shima Salehi, a doctoral student at Stanford
Graduate School of Education and one of the study's two lead authors.
"We found that these types of exams disadvantage women because of the
stronger effect that test anxiety has on women's performance."

The study, co-led by Cissy Ballen and co-authored by Sehoya Cotner
from the University of Minnesota, was published Oct. 19 in PLOS ONE.

The researchers collected data on 1,562 students in 10 large
introductory biology course sections during fall 2016. (A majority of
these students were women, typical for introductory biology classes.)
They analyzed exam scores as well as students' performance on
non-exam assessments like lab activities, discussion sections,
written assignments and low-stakes quizzes.

On average, the researchers found, female students underperformed
compared to males on biology course exams. They did better than
males, however, on the non-exam assessments-a finding the study's
authors said underscores the likelihood that high-pressure testing
does not adequately capture a student's understanding.

"Other studies have shown that students' performance on high-stakes
exams is not a good predictor for whether they're acquiring the
skills that STEM professionals need," Salehi said. "And if
psychological barriers prevent women from performing optimally on
exams, it may be time to reconsider exams as a primary method for
evaluating students' knowledge."

Impact of anxiety and interest

To better understand what might be affecting exam performance, the
researchers focused on two factors: test anxiety and a lack of
interest in the subject matter of the course. They surveyed a subset
of the subject pool (286 students from three of the introductory
sections) before final exams about their anxiety and their interest
in the course content.

In the survey, students were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 how
well certain statements applied to them. Statements about anxiety,
for example, included "I am so nervous during a test that I cannot
remember facts that I have learned" and "When I take a test, I think
about how poorly I am doing." Statements to assess students' interest
included "I think that what I am learning in this course is useful
for me to know" and "I think I will be able to use what I learn in
this course in later studies."

The effect differed markedly between genders, the researchers found.
Among males, neither self-reported test anxiety nor interest in the
course correlated with final exam scores. But for female
students-who, on average, reported higher anxiety and higher
interest-final exam grades correlated with both factors. As the
women's interest in the material increased, so did their exam scores,
whereas greater test anxiety diminished their exam performance.

These findings, the researchers said, point to two possible tactics
to help minimize the gender gap in test scores. First, past studies
have found that replacing a few high-stakes exams with more frequent
low-stakes testing-and using other types of assessments to lessen the
significance of exams-can reduce the impact of test anxiety. Second,
research indicates that more explicitly connecting the course
material to students' lives can make it more relevant and interesting
to them, "and by nurturing their interest in science," said Salehi,
"we can create a buffer to shield women from the negative effects of
test anxiety."

Adopting strategies for mitigating test anxiety and choosing
materials and methods that enhance students' interest in science
would make the science, technology, engineering and mathematics
pathway more accessible for all students, Salehi said. "We want to
figure out what kind of instructional methods will ensure that
everyone can navigate successfully through these courses and have a
wider range of career options."
SIDEBAR PHOTO:A new study shows that the anxiety of taking an exam
has a more significant impact on women's grades than it does for men.
(Photo: kali9/Getty Images)
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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