AIP report: Girls severely underrepresented in Advanced Placement Physics

A new report from the American Institute of Physics shows that girls are severely underrepresented in Advanced Placement Physics courses.

Only 32% of the students in Physics C – the Advanced Placement course that uses calculus – are girls.  The corresponding percentage in Physics B – the algebra-based version – is 41%.

Including all high school physics courses, including non-AP quantitative courses and conceptual courses, girls make up 47% of students.

The authors of the report, Susan White and Casey Langer Tesfaye, argue that the underrepresentation of girls in AP Physics is not a math issue.  Forty-eight percent of the students enrolled in AP Calculus AB are girls, while girls account for 41% of the AP Calculus BC students.

In their conclusion, White and Tesfaye say,

The reasons for lower female participation in advanced high school physics remain unclear. In many US high schools, physics is often taken in the final years of study. As we have documented, proportionally fewer female students choose AP Physics than choose less advanced physics classes. To examine why, we would need to look at factors which impacted these students before their final years of high school.  Did something in the earlier science curriculum discourage girls from more advanced physics? Or was it the general belief, widely embraced in our culture, that girls just don’t “do” hard sciences?

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One Response to AIP report: Girls severely underrepresented in Advanced Placement Physics

  1. Doc Carr says:

    Maybe the young women are smarter, and recognize the advantages of taking the full calc-based physics from someone like you? After all, my understanding is that there are some engineering schools that do not accept AP Physics C for their required course.

    I’m not being entirely snarky here. The gender split of students taking dual-enrollment PHY2048 at TCC is about 1:1, although the statistical significance of that ratio is weak.

    The fact that the percentage taking Physics B (which you argue, correctly, is excellent preparation for taking engineering physics) matches the percentage taking BC calculus says it could be entirely about scheduling. You would need the kind of multi-dimensional data tool we wish we had (where you could look patterns of students taking biology or organic with physics and calculus, for example) to figure out if they were taking more advanced chemistry instead. Maybe they want to be chemists or biomedical engineers and have been well-advised to go deeper into chemistry ASAP.

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