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Gender Differences in College Mathematics Grades and SAT-M Scores: A Reanalysis of Wainer and Steinberg SAT

Bridgeman, Brent; Lewis, Charles
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Calculus, College Freshmen, Grades (Scholastic), Mathematics, Predictive Validity, SAT, Scores, Sex Differences


Wainer and Steinberg (1992) showed that within broad categories of first-year college mathematics courses (e.g., calculus) men had substantially higher average scores on the mathematics section of the SAT (SAT-M) than women who earned the same letter grade. In calculus courses, the median difference over the five letter grades was about 38 points on the 200-800 SAT-M scale. However, three aspects of their analyses may lead to unwarranted conclusions. First, they focused primarily on differences in SAT-M scores given course grades when the more important question for admissions officers is the difference in course grades given scores on the predictor. Second, they failed to account for differences among calculus courses. Because different calculus courses may be differentially selected by men and women (e.g., calculus for engineers vs. calculus for liberal arts students), and because these courses may have different grading standards, the way Wainer and Steinberg aggregated information without regard to the specific course taken could exaggerate gender differences. The reanalysis, taking distinctions among courses into consideration, suggests that their estimates were too large by about 10 points in calculus courses, although their estimates for pre-calculus courses were confirmed. Most important, Wainer and Steinberg focused on the use of SAT-M as an isolated indicator; such use is contrary to professional recommendations. The reanalysis indicated that a more appropriate composite indicator made up of both SAT-M and high school grade point average demonstrated minuscule gender differences for both calculus and pre-calculus courses. (33pp.)

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