Report: Differences in School Performance Between Boys, Girls

The American Psychological Association has released the results of a study co-authored by Daniel Voyer, PhD. and Susan Voyer, MASc, University of New Brunswick, Canada,  in the Psychological Bulletin  that show a gender-based difference in scholastic achievement.  The results showed that girls achieve higher grades than boys throughout their school years — and that the gap has been documented for nearly a century.

On achievement tests the results are usually stereotypical, with boys scoring higher in math and science testing.  However, in overall school grades, regardless of the subject area, girls maintained a higher grade average than boys.

One explanation posited by the study’s authors is that grades given in a classroom setting reflect a larger social context and require long-term persistence.  Standardized tests, on the other hand assess basic or specialized academic abilities or aptitudes.  In addition the skills are being tested at one point in time with no social influences involved.

Research that spanned the years of 1914 to 2011 and included data from more than 30 countries showed that differences in grades for girls and boys were largest in language and smallest in math and science.  However, the difference in the girls’ advantage  in math and science did not show up until middle school.  This gender difference increased from lower school to middle school, and decreased between high school and college.

The researchers examined 369 samples from 308 studies, reflecting grades of 538,710 boys and 595,332 girls. Seventy percent of the samples consisted of students from the United States. Other countries or regions represented by more than one sample included Norway, Canada, Turkey, Germany, Taiwan, Malaysia, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Slovakia, United Kingdom Africa and Finland. Countries represented by one sample included Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Mexico, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Slovenia.

The studies evaluated gender differences in:

  • teacher-assigned grades
  • official grade point averages
  • self-reporting grades
  • country location of school attended by the student
  • course material
  • students’ ages at the time of receiving grades
  • study date
  • racial composition of samples
  • (special populations were excluded from this testing)

Claims that a male student crisis is occurring because boys continue to lag behind their female counterparts in school achievement are inaccurate, say the authors.  Over decades girls’ grades have been higher than boys’.  There have not been any significant changes in this status for years.  The reason girls’ grades are higher could be because of social and cultural factors.  Because it is assumed that boys are better at math and science, perhaps parents encourage girls a bit more often to increase the effort they put into their studies.  Learning styles differences in the two genders could have play a part in the gap, the authors suggest.

Previous research has shown girls tend to study in order to understand the materials, whereas boys emphasize performance, which indicates a focus on the final grades. “Mastery of the subject matter generally produces better marks than performance emphasis, so this could account in part for males’ lower marks than females,” the authors wrote.

That girls out-perform boys throughout mandatory schooling in most countries is a well-kept secret, reports Maggie Fox, senior health writer for NBC News.  Matthew Hilburn of reports that the National Center for Educational Statistics released data showing that girls have a high school graduation rate of 84% compared to a 77% rate for boys.

05 2, 2014
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