Study Examines Why Girls Do Better Than Boys In School

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

American women seem poised to make the 21st century their century as they begin to equal or even surpass their male counterparts in many aspects of society.

Researchers from the University of Georgia and Columbia University decided to look into one possible aspect of the emergence of women: why young girls earn better grades in elementary school than their male counterparts despite performing worse on standardized tests.

According to the research team´s report in the current issue of the Journal of Human Resources, the girls´ classroom behavior appears to translate into a higher overall academic performance.

“The skill that matters the most in regards to how teachers graded their students is what we refer to as ℠approaches toward learning,'” study co-author Christopher Cornwell, an economics professor at UGA, said in a statement. “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.”

“I think that anybody who’s a parent of boys and girls can tell you that girls are more of all of that,” he added.

The research team poured through data on more than 5,800 students, from kindergarten through fifth grade. The data included the students’ performance on standardized tests in three categories: reading, math and science. The scientists linked these test scores to the teachers’ evaluations of their students’ performance, both academically and more generally.

The study´s findings showed that gender differences in teachers´ grading and evaluation begins in early years and tends to favor girls. In every subject area, the boys tended to perform below where their test scores might indicate.

The authors theorized that the difference could be due to so-called non-cognitive skills, or “how well each child was engaged in the classroom, how often the child externalized or internalized problems, how often the child lost control and how well the child developed interpersonal skills.”

According to Cornwell, the grading differences, whatever the cause, can have lasting effects.

“The trajectory at which kids move through school is often influenced by a teacher’s assessment of their performance, their grades. This affects their ability to enter into advanced classes and other kinds of academic opportunities, even post-secondary opportunities,” he said. “It’s also typically the grades you earn in school that are weighted the most heavily in college admissions. So if grade disparities emerge this early on, it’s not surprising that by the time these children are ready to go to college, girls will be better positioned.”

The difference in performance between men and women has been a hot topic lately, with more women graduating from college and more women becoming the heads of major corporations.

Some attribute the rise of women to the increased importance of “soft skills,” or social skills that are traditionally emphasized in and by young women–as opposed to the “hard” or more technical skills young men are known to value.

In an interview with the New York Times, author and self-promotion expert Peggy Klaus described how social skills have been undervalued, but are becoming more important than technical skills in the eyes of job recruiters.

“Recruiters come back and say this batch of second-year M.B.A.s are brilliant at quantitative skills, but they don´t know things like how to get along, work in a team or be good communicators,” she told the NY Times. “And until recently, they were also undervalued in corporate America where everyone thought going to the right schools was what would make you successful.”