Oxford extends math test time to boost women’s grades


The whole “women can do anything just as well as men” paradigm that’s driven our society of late has always puzzled me. Yes, absolutely, women should be allowed the same opportunities as men, I’ve certainly no problem with that, but there’s always been a strange hypocrisy to it that I’ve found troubling.

Women joining the military, for example, is fine on the surface…but then the whole noble purpose is destroyed when the physical training requirements are reduced for women. This is rationalized away with “women won’t have the same combat duties, so don’t need to have the same level of physical skills,” but I find this very weak in light of the assertion of equality. Similarly women firefighters have reduced requirements…this is all well and good, but firefighters are supposed to be able to save people, including each other. When the walls are burning and your co-worker is unconscious, being able to physically carry him seems far more important than political correctness, but such musings are above my pay grade, I suppose.

Stumbling back over to higher education, there’s been a relentless push to cram women, as many as possible, into STEM majors. Again, as long as they’re playing by the same rules as the males I see no issue in principle with this. But I see a devious new plan to change the rules for women:

Oxford University extends time for maths and computer science exams in bid to help women get better grades

Now, I’m not a jerk, of course I want women to succeed, but this kind of standard-lowering is insidious. I remember when I was at a bogus community college, and every year, in a desperate bid to get more people passing the tests, specifically above 50% of the class, we made the tests easier and easier.

The result? More and more people were getting perfect scores, so that something like 20% of the class were scoring 100% perfect on the simple tests…but we still had 60% of the class fail because of, well, many reasons I’ve discussed before.

Similarly, extending the test time is only going to accomplish so much. Honest, for the vast majority of math problems, having more time doesn’t help. I grant the extension here was only an extra 15 minutes (up to 105 minutes from the ‘fast’ 90 minutes), but there’s principle here.

Please understand how this hides the issue. The students who could finish the test in 90 minutes are getting no benefit from the extra time. It’s only, possibly, benefitting the women who are every bit as good, just slow, or so the people extending the test time claim. Why the cognitive disconnect in the previous sentence isn’t completely obvious is beyond me. At least I’m not alone:

However, critics have slammed the changes as ‘sexist’ as they believe it suggests that women are the weaker sex.

“Suggests,” seriously? To assert that this lowering of standards merely suggests women are inferior is insulting to me (and, I would presume, any scholar), much as extending the test time is insulting to women as well. “Our females are slow, so we’ll change the rules just for them. Equality!” seems to be the party line here, but it makes my head hurt just considering it.

While I’m well past my youth, there are some physical competitions I can engage in. However, they’d be in the “senior” category, or otherwise age-restricted. I’m ok with this, as I know that I’m no match for a 20 year-old in physical things.

But if I won an age-restricted competition, it’d be an insult to my intelligence to assume I’m anything but the best in a very restricted category. By the same measure, the women taking these tests should complain bitterly about such insulting treatment…or just acknowledge that they’re inferior, much as I’d consider my physical skills. The males taking the test should also complain, as it’s cheapening their Oxford education.

And something else gets revealed here. Perhaps the thing I hate most about every proposed change to education is it always works. I’m serious, I’ve never heard of a single study showing that a change to some method of teaching or grading doesn’t improve student scores.

This may seem shocking, but the gentle reader should understand why this is the case. See, the people who study the changes are always the ones who proposed the changes…they have a huge conflict of interest in making sure their ideas work. So, always, they do what it takes to represent the data as showing that they have good ideas.

Forgive me, then, if I’m unimpressed with Oxford’s claim:

‘However, third-year female students did show an improvement on their second-year marks.

I’m glad the female students did better, good for them but…this statistic is being given in a vacuum. I mean, did the males do better? If they didn’t, then we’ve got a method that’s actively hurting males. Shouldn’t we be worried about hurting males?

If the males also did better (and I suspect they would), what happens if they improved more than the females? Now we’re back to hurting the females again.

What happens if both genders improved equally? Then we’ve accomplished nothing by extending the time. All three of these possibilities are possible based on the vacuum-statistic provided, and all three undermine the study.

Please understand the people running this study, proposing this new idea, are supposed to know at least a little about research methods. That’s what a Ph.D. generally represents, after all, the ability to conduct scholarly research. But instead of legitimate discussion, we get this one statistic that tells us basically nothing about how well the new idea works…although it does lead one ignorant of how often this research is muddled to believe it’s a good idea. As the target audience for this proposed change is administration at other campuses, counting on ignorance is perfectly reasonable, I admit.

The comments are generally laughing at the foolishness here, and I tend to concur. Most likely, if they ever do legitimately study this topic, they’ll find that extending the test time improves scores up to a point, but past a certain point (say, the 90 minutes that had been established by long tradition), usefulness of extending the test time drops off sharply.

But they’ll still give women more time.

Because they’re equal.