Students Can Detect Teachers’ Gender Bias, Boys Suffer Most

Recent research suggests that teachers tend to be tougher when grading the papers of students of the opposite gender — but that boys in particular suffer at the hands of female teachers.

In a study released earlier this year by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, researchers claim that, for the most part, students are aware of these biases and that this knowledge has an impact on how invested they are in their education.

In an effort to determine how well students perceive these biases, researchers asked 1,200 British students from 29 schools around the country to predict – by making a financial investment – how high their grade on a verbal test was likely to be if they were to be non-anonymously graded by a teacher of the same gender or the opposite gender versus the grade they would receive from an outside examiner who didn't know the gender of the person whose paper they were grading.

Students are handed a sum of £4 which they can either keep or allocate part of the sum to bet on their own performance at a test where grading is partly discretionary. In a random half of the classrooms, grading is done anonymously by an external examiner. In the other random half, grading is done non-anonymously by the teacher. Thus differences in students' betting behavior across the anonymous and non-anonymous classrooms identify the effect of grading conditions on students' beliefs. Interestingly the experiment involved students and teachers of different ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Also, we can see whether students' betting behavior is consistent with teachers' grading practices compared to the external examiner's grading practices.

Male students were able to correctly predict that their grades would suffer when assessed by female teachers compared to the grade given by an outside examiner. In reality, female teachers, on average, gave higher grades to their female students compared to the grades given by outside examiners. The outcome was exactly reversed when the they were grading papers submitted by male students.

A similar bias was expressed by male teachers. Compared to the grades assigned by examiners, male teachers assigned higher grades to papers submitted by male students, and lower grades to papers submitted by their female students.

Both female and male students showed awareness that females were likely to benefit from papers graded by female teachers. Yet in the case of male teachers, female students believed that tests submitted both by genders were to be graded fairly. As a result, while male students tended to apply themselves less when taught by female teachers — they generally felt that their effort wasn't going to be appropriately acknowledged and rewarded — female students actually tended to invest more in their academics when taught by males, seemingly unaware that male teachers carried a similar opposite gender bias as their female colleagues.

The results of the study open another avenue in the quest to determine why male students consistently underperform their female peers in academics. The possibility that gender bias exists in grading puts boys in a difficult position in a school system where only 15% of teachers are men.

In a conclusion that was surprising to researchers, they found no evidence of racial or ethnic bias.

11 27, 2012
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