Girls Outscore Boys on National Test of Tech and Engineering Skills


Girls score higher than boys on an inaugural exam to test technology and engineering skills. #STEM

As a father of two young girls, part of my job is to instill confidence in their abilities throughout childhood by assuring them “anything a boy can do, a girl can do better.” Well, one important area where girls not only match boys’ abilities, but exceed them, is in technology and engineering.

This week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that girls scored higher than boys on its inaugural exam to test technology and engineering skills. The Technology and Engineering Literacy exam (TEL) tested 8th graders in approximately 840 public and private schools and was designed to gauge students’ knowledge of technology and engineering as well as analyze their problem-solving skills.

Some of the findings include:

  • Female students scored 3 points higher than males (45% proficient vs. 42%)
  • White and black female students outperformed their male peers in their respective racial groups
  • 43% of 8th graders scored proficient or above
  • Suburban students scored 10 points higher than their urban counterparts
  • More affluent students scored 28 points higher than lower-income students

One of the issues we highlighted in our 2014 Leaders & Laggards report was the wide variance of STEM preparation across the country.

“Massachusetts, the highest-scoring state, saw an average of 1 in 6 students in the class of 2013 graduate high school with an AP STEM credit. Mississippi, the lowest, saw only 1 in 80,” the report cites.

This is a big problem for a state’s economy.

“Clearly, the United States will not be able to meet its workforce demands at the current STEM success rates,” the report continues. “Mississippi alone will have 43,000 STEM-related jobs by 2018. In a state like Mississippi with a 7.9% unemployment rate (as of summer 2014), this could provide an essential opportunity for an economically depressed part of the country. But if students lack the necessary skills and content knowledge, these jobs will remain out of their reach.”

A recent story in Education Week on the latest NAEP TEL findings highlights what they call “considerable gaps of opportunity” to STEM courses.

“According to the results released, 48 percent of students were not taking any technology, computer, engineering, or industrial technology course at all.”

And the numbers are even worse for students of color. Last year’s Leaders & Laggards report found that only three states saw more than 5% of African-American students in their graduating class pass at least one AP STEM exam during high school. Much of this is due to a lack of access to these courses.

In the 21st century, technology and engineering are involved in almost every decision we make whether we know it or not. It’s critical that all students develop these skills at a young age to serve them well throughout schooling and life.

The first step in achieving this is to ensure students who are interested in learning these skills can actually have access to courses that teach them.


Mark D'Alessio is senior manager of communications at USCCF's Center for Education and Workforce.