February 1 2013
Heartland: Study: Boys with Equal Ability Get Lower Grades than Girls
by Isabel Lyman
A new study concludes girls get higher grades because they are less trouble in class.
University of Georgia and Columbia University researchers found girls’ classroom decorum influences how their teachers—consciously or unconsciously—assess their performance
Christopher Cornwell, David Mustard, and Jessica Van Parys combed through the results of reading, math, and science standardized tests from nearly 6,000 elementary students and compared those to the students’ classroom progress.
While the lassies outscored the laddies in reading, the data revealed that “gender disparities in teacher grades start early and uniformly favor girls. In every subject area, boys are represented in grade distributions below where their test scores would predict.”
Reason: Better Attitudes
The reason for this alleged male bias, according to the trio of researchers, is attributed to the strength, on the part of girls, of their non-cognitive skills.
“You can think of ‘approaches to learning’ as a rough measure of what a child’s attitude toward school is. It includes six items that rate the child’s attentiveness, task persistence, eagerness to learn, learning independence, flexibility and organization,” Cornwell said in a statement. “Anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that.”
Case for Education Diversity
Sabrina Schaeffer, executive director of the Independent Women's Forum and mother of two daughters and one son, thinks the researchers make a compelling case for education diversity.
“We know that girls and boys play differently, learn differently, and have a range of strengths, aptitudes, and interests,” notes Schaeffer. “Still we continue to encourage a one-size-fits all public school system that works to educate all children in exactly the same way. This research shows that girls are clearly more suited for the traditional classroom setting, while boys would likely benefit from an alternative structure.”
The study suggests researchers should conduct more studies, said Andresse St. Rose, a senior researcher for the American Association of University Women: “Both cognitive and non-cognitive factors matter for school success to varying degrees, and they can be interrelated. For instance, girls’ higher verbal/reading scores (cognitive factor) may mean that they are better at expressing themselves to teachers, which influences how teachers rate their ‘approaches to learning’ (non-cognitive factor).”
Given the high percentage of women who are elementary school teachers, as this study notes, those who teach young men may need to re-evaluate their assumptions about boys and girls. Parents of little boys may want delay formal schooling for a more relaxed online model or perhaps consider a same-sex school, Schaeffer said.