Characteristics of high-ability women who achieve in the 95th percentile on the quantitative section of the Scholastic Achievement Test

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Mathematics|Women's Studies|Education, Administration




The issue of gender equity as it relates to female math achievement, especially among highly able females, is one that has been studied by researchers. The SAT, prominent in the screening of college applicants, shows large and consistent differences among high ability students, which has profound implications for the educational opportunities and life chances of females and is a barrier to women's educational accomplishments.^ Using qualitative research methods, this study examined the situational experiences and personal characteristics of female seniors in high school who have achieved above the 95th percentile on the quantitative section of the SAT by analyzing five overlapping domains: cognitive, affective, school environments, teacher influences, and family influences. The complex interaction between these variables is the phenomena that the study investigated.^ Semi-structured interviews of twenty-three purposefully chosen students, and in some instances, their teachers and parents, were conducted. The interview approach enabled the participants to explain the phenomenon as they perceived it, thus allowing the researcher to hear the "voices" of the women. The data was used to detect general themes and patterns that were common to the participants and open, axial and selective coding was used to analyze the data. The qualitative data gathered in this study suggests that while the women interviewed possessed significant cognitive ability, the characteristics that seemed to enable them to achieve to such a great degree were affective.^ Two models are presented to illuminate these themes: The Consolidated Model of Mathematics Efficacy and The Relational Model of Mathematics Efficacy which illuminates how cognitive ability, extensive emotional intelligence, successful experiences in schools and through teachers and the positive impact of families have blended together to create a tipping point that seemed to push high ability women into a domain of high mathematics performance. Judicial, analytical, hierarchical thinking style, coupled with sex-role congruency, confidence, automomous learning behaviors and persistence were the relational influences on high ability women and math achievement. These themes and patterns formed the basis of recommendations for students, parents, and educators to facilitate the achievement of high ability females and all learners in the areas of mathematics. ^