'Math class is tough' no more: Girls' skills now equal boys'

As Hyde and her colleagues looked across the data for states' testing, they found something they didn't expect: In most states they reviewed, and at most grade levels, there weren't any questions that involved complex problem-solving, an ability needed to succeed in high levels of science and math. If tests don't assess these reasoning skills, they may not be taught, putting American students at a disadvantage to students in other countries with more challenging tests, the researchers said.

That might be a glaring omission, said Stephen Camarata, a Vanderbilt University professor who has researched the issue but was not involved in the study.

"We need to know that, if our measures aren't capturing some aspect of math that's important," Camarata said. "Then we can decide whether there's an actual male or female advantage."

A panel of experts convened by the Education Department recommended that state tests be updated to emphasize critical thinking.

While some states already have fairly rigorous tests, "we can do a better job," said Kerri Briggs, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

"If we're going to be globally competitive, we need students who are able to do higher-level math skills," she said.

Back in 1992, Barbie stopped saying math was hard after Mattel received complaints from, among others, the American Association of University Women.

So far, while her current career choices include baby doctor and veterinarian — and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, too — Barbie has not branched out into technology or engineering.

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