the advantage for female students didn't become apparent until junior or middle school
April 30, 2014

Girls Make Better Grades Than Boys, But Boys Score Higher On Standardized Achievement Tests

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

One of the most disturbing topics in education today is the seeming disparity between grades in math and science for boys and girls. A new study from the University of New Brunswick, however, reveals that girls have made higher grades than boys throughout their school careers for nearly a century, despite stereotypes.

"Although gender differences follow essentially stereotypical patterns on achievement tests in which boys typically score higher on math and science, females have the advantage on school grades regardless of the material," said Daniel Voyer, PhD, of the University of New Brunswick. "School marks reflect learning in the larger social context of the classroom and require effort and persistence over long periods of time, whereas standardized tests assess basic or specialized academic abilities and aptitudes at one point in time without social influences."

The study data was collected from studies in more than 30 countries between 1941 and 2011. The researchers found the largest differences in grades between boys and girls existed in language courses, while the smallest differences were in math and science. The study, published in Psychological Bulletin, demonstrated that the advantage for female students didn't become apparent until junior or middle school. From elementary school to middle school, the degree of gender differences increased, then decreased again between high school and college.

The data consisted of 369 samples collected from 308 studies. These samples reflected the grades of 538,710 males and 595,332 females — with 70 percent coming from the US. The remainder were divided between countries or regions that contributed more than one sample — such as Norway, Canada, Turkey, Germany, Taiwan, Malaysia, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Slovakia, United Kingdom Africa and Finland — and countries or regions that contributed only a single sample — Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Mexico, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Serbia and Slovenia.

Gender differences in teacher-assigned grades or official grade point averages in elementary, junior/middle or high school, or undergraduate and graduate university were evaluated in all of the studies included. Voyer and his team excluded any studies that relied on self-reporting, or those that were concerned with special populations. Voyer's team examined variables that might affect the students' grades, such as course material, age of the student at the time of the grades assignment, the country where the student attended school, the study date and racial composition of the samples.

There has been a recent trend in educational research to decry a "boy crisis" of boys lagging behind girls in school achievement. The results of this new study show that the boy crisis is not a recent development, as boys have lagged behind girls consistently for several decades. There have been no significant differences in recent years.

"The fact that females generally perform better than their male counterparts throughout what is essentially mandatory schooling in most countries seems to be a well-kept secret, considering how little attention it has received as a global phenomenon," said Susan Voyer, MASc, also of the University of New Brunswick.

Social and cultural factors could be partially responsible for girls performing better than boys in school, according to the research team. Other factors could include parental assumptions and support, and gender differences in learning styles—for example, girls tend to study to understand, whereas boys tend to focus on the end result.

"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.