• by National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education • IDRA Newsletter • March 2000 • 

Twenty-five years ago, former Senator Birch Bayh introduced a measure designed to end the myriad of discriminatory practices confronting women and girls in educational institutions. This provision, enacted as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, is the federal mandate against sex discrimination in education. Using the broadest terms possible, Congress intended to assure that girls and women no longer would be constrained by “corrosive and unjustified” gender bias in education, signaling loudly and clearly that the days when gender dictated educational opportunities in schools, colleges, or universities receiving taxpayer dollars were over.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Title IX’s enactment, it is fitting to assess the nation’s progress toward Congress’ goal of ending sex discrimination in education. From today’s vantage point, there is no question that Title IX has had a significant impact on women and girls…

Twenty-five years later, educational opportunities for girls and women have increased, thanks to Title IX, but there is room for improvement. As this progress report makes clear, Title IX has helped women and girls make strides in gaining access to higher education, athletics programming and other areas, such as science and engineering. But many barriers remain… We owe it to our daughters to improve our performance on Title IX by removing these obstacles.

Math and Science

The enactment of Title IX 25 years ago removed many barriers to women and girls in the non-traditional fields of math and science, areas critical to their success in an increasingly technological world. However, disparities based on gender still exist in achievement and participation rates in these disciplines. Gender differences in math and science start small and grow as students reach secondary school, where boys outperform girls on standardized tests and participate in math and science classes at higher rates. In post-secondary schools, young men go on to major in math and the sciences in rates that exceed those of young women, many of whom are shut out of the career opportunities these fields can provide.

Exclusion and Underachievement

Before Title IX, educators, guided by stereotypes that girls could not achieve in math and science, sometimes steered high school girls from higher-level math and science classes and frequently excluded them from extracurricular activities such as science and math clubs. Not surprisingly, girls’ achievement in science and math courses was lower than that of their male counterparts.


The 1969-70 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) of the country’s students in science found grade school and middle school boys outscored girls by an average 5 points; in high school, the gap increased to 17 points. Today, the disturbing pattern persists, but the high school gap has shrunken to 11 points, thanks in part to Title IX. Performance levels also vary by gender. Among eighth graders, the 1977 NAEP found 14 percent of boys performing at the highest levels, compared to only 9 percent of girls, a 5-point gap. In high school, the gap grew to a yawning 21 points, with 61 percent of senior boys performing at the highest levels, compared to only 40 percent of senior girls. The past 25 years have done little to close the gap: 1994 NAEP data (more recent NAEP data use different measures and therefore cannot be compared easily against 1970s data) recorded the same 10-point gap for eighth graders and an only slightly improved 19-point gap for high school students.


Just as in the case of science, the gender gap in math starts out small in early grades and grows by high school. The 1973 NAEP found that girls narrowly outscored boys at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels; by high school, however, girls had fallen behind by 8 points. By 1994 girls had lost their early edge but had moved up in high school to within 5 points of boys.

Performance levels vary by gender in math, just as in science. In 1978, 10 percent of senior boys performed at the highest math level, compared to 5 percent of senior girls. This gap also has narrowed: 1994 NAEP data measured the gap of high math proficiency at 3 points. However, on high-stakes tests, such as the SAT, the gap is much greater. Although girls’ performance on the math SAT has improved somewhat, College Board data show boys still outscored girls by 35 points in 1996, compared to 44 points in 1972.

The persistence of the gender gap in high school – and its tendency to grow as students advance in grade – continues to be a subject of great concern. This gap continues in higher education and in careers in math- and science-related fields. According to the American Association of University Women, gender differences in confidence – students’ belief in their ability to learn and perform well – correlate strongly with interest in math and science. Girls doubt their confidence in math and science more often than do boys.

Participation Rates

Girls’ participation rates have unquestionably increased since the passage of Title IX. For example, as recently as 1986, only 8 percent of high school senior girls had taken physics compared to 14 percent of boys; 39 percent of senior girls had taken chemistry compared to 42 percent of boys. By 1994, 16 percent of high school senior girls had taken physics and 55 percent had taken chemistry. And schools can no longer stop girls from taking part in math- and science-related extracurricular activities.

However, female students’ participation rates decline once they enter post-secondary institutions, and steadily decrease as degree level increases. For example, in 1994:

  • In biology, women received 51 percent of bachelor’s degrees, but only 41 percent of doctoral degrees.
  • In computer sciences, women received 28 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 26 percent of master’s degrees, and 15 percent of doctoral degrees.
  • Women’s participation in engineering stays small and shrinks, with women receiving 15 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 15 percent of master’s degrees, and 11 percent of doctoral degrees.

The drop in female students’ participation rates in math and science likely is due, in part, to the hostile environment they encounter in these fields. Women students frequently are regarded as tokens in math or science and excluded from full participation in laboratory and field work, or experience sexual and gender-based harassment in these settings.

In addition, research shows that girls lag behind in computer usage. Although more girls in school are using computers for homework and telecommunicating, extracurricular activities such as computer clubs and contests are still overwhelmingly male. Although software companies are now marketing to girls, the games often rely on sexist plots such as mall shopping and nabbing a boyfriend. Although more girls are taking lower-level computing courses, only 16 percent of Advanced Placement computer science test takers are girls. We still have a long way to go.

Steps Forward

Teaching methods already exist to encourage and engage all students and to otherwise decrease or eliminate the gender gaps in math and science. However, educators and administrators must begin to employ these teaching methods in earlier grades if the gender gap is to disappear. Further, educators and administrators must look for ways to encourage girls to pursue math and science while in secondary school so that more women will enter these fields in college and pursue related careers.This article is excerpted from “Title IX at 25 – Report Card on Gender Equity” (June 1997) with permission from the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education. Copies of the full report are available from the National Women’s Law Center (202-588-5180).

Progress Toward Gender Equity

Access to Higher Education
Career Education
Learning Environment
Math and Science
Sexual Harassment
Standardized Testing
Treatment of Pregnant and Parenting Teens

 Grading Scale

A – Equitable: Gender and other areas of diversity are respected and affirmed.
B – Substantial Progress: Elimination of most gender-based barriers.
C – Some Progress: Some barriers addressed, but more improvements are necessary.
D – Little Progress: Significant gender-based barriers remain.
F – Failure: No progress in 25 years.


 – “Title IX at 25 – Report Card on Gender Equity” (June 1997), National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education.

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[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2000 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]